Are there times when the usual consent requirements do not apply?

In general, those who make medical treatment decisions must be legally recognized as adults in the state where treatment is to be given. But there are a few times when an older teen (for instance, one who is self-supporting and doesn’t live at home, is married, or in the military) does not need parental consent for procedures or treatments. There are also some situations where teens can consent for certain kinds of treatment even if they are underage. The rules and treatment situations vary from state to state.

There are also times when the decision made by the parent or guardian of a child or an incompetent adult may be challenged by the doctor or facility. In these cases, the courts may overrule the usual decision-maker if they think the decision that was made would cause undue harm. But these cases are fairly rare.

In an emergency:

  • If a person is unconscious and in danger of death or other serious outcome if medical care is not given right away, informed consent may not be required before treatment.
  • If those who are giving treatment know that the patient has an advance directive refusing the care, the treatment may not be given.
  • If those treating the person know that he or she has an advance directive that appoints someone else to make decisions, that person may be called for informed consent if there is time. But in general, emergency situations don’t allow much time to check on advance directives.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: May 20, 2016 Last Revised: July 28, 2014

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.