Parental Rights: Medical Decision, Treatment


Who can consent to medical care for a child?

Summary: Parents and legal guardians can consent to inpatient or outpatient medical treatment for a child under 18 without the child’s consent. 

Parents and guardians in Pennsylvania have the legal authority and the duty to make medical decisions for children under 18. They also have the duty of seeking medical help when the life of their child is in danger. Ultimately, parents have the responsibility and authority for all inpatient or outpatient medical care for their children. There is an emergency exception to this rule, which states that medical, dental, and health treatment may be given to a child without the parents’ consent if the child’s life or health is in danger. 

This rule no longer applies once a child meets one of the following conditions:

  • Has reached 18 years of age
  • Has graduated from high school
  • Has married
  • Has been pregnant

Once a child turns 18 or meets one of these other conditions, the child’s own consent to medical treatment is sufficient. Additionally, a child under 18 who has been or is a parent has the right to consent to medical, dental, and other health services for his/her own child. 

NOTE: Abortion is treated differently from medical care in Pennsylvania. Although parental consent is required for a pregnant woman under the age of 18 to obtain an abortion, there are exceptions. A person acting in loco parentis may give consent if a parent or guardian is unable to provide consent. Additionally, if a minor’s parents either refuse to consent to the abortion or a minor chooses not to seek the consent of a parent or guardian, the minor can file a petition to request a court to authorize the abortion. Before issuing the order, the court must determine whether or not the pregnant woman is mature and is capable of giving consent to the abortion. This is called a judicial bypass.


  • The Minors’ Consent Act, 35 P.S. §10101
  • Abortion Control Act, 18 Pa. C.S. § 3206

This information is a general summary intended to provide parents and legal guardians with an overview of their rights in the following three areas of decision-making and treatment for their children: medical treatment, mental health treatment, and drug and alcohol treatment. This summary is not a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. If you are dealing with a specific legal problem, it is recommended that you consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable in the specific area of the law.