Apparently, thirteen New York schools have decided to give (or at least make available) morning-after birth control medication to students without first obtaining parental consent. The program is called CATCH (Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health) and apparently is the first program of its kind in the United States.
Boy, have times changed.
We all know sex is, and has always been, a controversial subject. Prohibited from conversation at times, lauded at others, the very thought of children or young adults having sex has to be one of the most controversial subjects that a parent, teacher, friend, or child can deal with. But the real question becomes, where does the line begin and end for confidentiality? How secret is someone’s health or their life choices and how secret should it be? What do parents get to know and what do they not get to know about their own child?
Clearly, if a person smokes, that’s a choice that a child can keep from his or her parents. There’s no duty to disclose that information to one’s parents. But what if that same child is noticeably addicted to cocaine? In that circumstance, there is absolutely a duty to disclose such information to the child’s parents. But if your child is simply having sex? Eek.
If I were a parent, would I want to know if my child was having sex? Absolutely. But should I be entitled to know? Frankly, I just don’t know the answer to that question. Where does the responsibility of being a good parent end and the autonomy of a child begin? What age does that happen at and what activities fall into what category?
Ultimately, I think this move by New York schools raises more questions than it answers. At the end of the day, people take the confidentiality of their own medical records EXTREMELY seriously. You don’t have to look very far to find a lawsuit where people are suing large institutions for wrongful disclosure of medical records. There’s the Sutter Medical Group class action, the Stanford Medical Center class action (of which my firm represents the named plaintiff), and countless others. So when does a child get to make the determination of who gets to see their “medical records” or when their confidentiality gets breached?
I think that allowing children to make their own choices is both a blessing and a curse. Sure it breeds autonomy and the spirit of trial by fire. At the same time, though, when does a child simply not know when to make the right decision? And when are they going to make a decision that really hurts them and there’s no turning back? Is having unprotected sex crossing the line?
I suppose what New York is doing allows students to make better life decisions AFTER they’ve already made a bad decision by possibly getting pregnant unintentionally. At the same time, by keeping things hush hush, I think the opportunity for a teaching moment by a teacher or parent might get lost in the shuffle, and that’s troubling to me.
I wish I had a strong feeling one way or the other on this matter, but I just don’t know if I love this new rule or hate it. At any rate, definitely food for thought. What do you think?