In Victoria, British Columbia, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the overdose death of 16-year-old Eliot Eurchuk. Eurchuk’s parents are in court with hopes to prevent future teen overdose deaths and heroin overdose deaths. The Eurchuks are fighting against medical privacy laws in British Columbia, which they say contributed to their son’s death.
Dr. David Harrison gave testimony related to his care of Eliot Eurchuk in 2019. Dr. Harrison told jurors that he felt torn between a moral obligation to tell the parents of Eliot about his drug test results and a legal obligation to keep the information private.
According to Dr. Harrison, Eliot had the right to keep his medical information from being shared with his parents, and Eliot asked that it remain confidential. However, Dr. Harrison said he was worried Eliot wasn’t able to make good decisions, primarily due to his dependence on illicit street drugs.
The medical privacy law in question is called the B.C. Infants Act. Under the law, if a child aged 12 or older doesn’t want their medical records released to family members, they don’t have to be.
Opponents of the law say that it allows children to hide potentially deadly health issues from their parents, including drug use and addiction.
Medical Privacy Laws and Minors
While the case above highlights the law in British Columbia, there are similar issues with medical privacy laws for minors here in the United States. Privacy is regulated under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Current HIPAA laws for minors in the U.S. state that in the treatment of a minor child, a health care provider can share information with the personal representative of the child. This personal representative may be a parent, guardian, or someone acting in place of a parent (in loco parentis).
There are exceptions, however. For example, there are exceptions when there is a state law that doesn’t require the consent of a parent or representative before a minor can receive a health care service, or the parent agrees to a confidential relationship between the minor and the care provider.
Regardless, the laws related to doctor-patient confidentiality and minors can be somewhat murky. For example, a doctor can refrain from telling parents about something a teen shares with them privately, unless the disclosure involves the teen hurting another person. Another exception is when something disclosed could cause harm to the patient, but even this guideline can be interpreted in many ways. For example, can drug use be considered self-harm?
The Controversy Behind Confidentiality and Addiction
There is significant controversy about teen substance abuse and child confidentiality of medical information. When teens opt to keep their substance abuse-related records private from their parents, it can prevent them from receiving treatment and ultimately lead them to overdose like Eliot.
At the same time, HIPAA is important because it helps people feel more comfortable sharing information about their health with their care providers, and that can ultimately save their life.
If a teen shares that they are struggling with drugs, their health care provider may be able to point them in the direction of a teen treatment center.
Importance of Drug Education and Resources
With so much debate about teen privacy in health care, what can parents do, particularly when they feel powerless?
The best thing is to work on parent drug education so that you know how to spot the signs of potential drug abuse. There are drug prevention programs for youth as well so that your teens can learn about the risks of drug use.
If you would like more information about drug prevention programs for youth or teen drug rehab, reach out to The Recovery Village today.
Harnett, Cindy E. “Doctor tells inquest he struggled with teen’s request to keep info from parents.” Times Colonist, June 20, 2019. Accessed July 17, 2019. Meissner, Dirk. “Beautiful boy slipped between health-care cracks, father says after B.C. inquest.” CBC, June 26, 2019. Accessed July 17, 2019.
Harnett, Cindy E. “Doctor tells inquest he struggled with teen’s request to keep info from parents.” Times Colonist, June 20, 2019. Accessed July 17, 2019.
Meissner, Dirk. “Beautiful boy slipped between health-care cracks, father says after B.C. inquest.” CBC, June 26, 2019. Accessed July 17, 2019.