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Vitale Session

Legislation Updates Law, Authorizes Forensic Examination and Urgent Medical Care Without Parental Consent

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale and Senator Linda R. Greenstein that would allow health care professionals and physicians to authorize forensic examination and urgent medical care without parental consent on minors who appear to have been sexually assaulted was approved today by the Senate.

Under current law, a minor who appears to have been sexually assaulted may receive “necessary emergency medical or surgical care.” The bill, S-3243, would allow, without parental consent, any emergency or urgent medical or surgical care for minors who appear to have been sexually assaulted.

“There is a very narrow window of time to gather forensic evidence following a suspected sexual assault. Removing the red tape and prioritizing a child’s well-being as first and foremost when providing any emergency or urgent care following an attack is critical and common sense,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “Updating our laws is necessary to allow for an expedited process that puts child victims first and lets healthcare professionals do their jobs effectively.”

Also under current law, when a minor appears to have been sexually assaulted, the minor’s parents or guardian shall be notified immediately, unless the attending physician believes that it is in the best interests of the patient not to do so.  The statute provides that the inability of the treating physician, hospital or clinic to locate or notify the parents or guardians shall not preclude the provision of any necessary emergency medical or surgical care.  The amendments proposed under this bill would allow other health care professionals, such as nurses, in addition to physicians, to authorize forensic examinations and other medical care.

“Allowing other health care professionals such as nurses to authorize forensic examinations and other medical care is important because they are often the first point of contact in any doctor’s office or hospital,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “With time acting against any forensic examination, it is critical that children get the treatment they require as soon as possible, and this bill will provide the necessary updates to our laws to make that happen.”

Pursuant to the Statewide Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (“SANE”) program enacted in statute in 2001, specially trained nurse examiners collect forensic evidence from sexual assault victims for use in prosecutions.  However, due to the provisions of a 1968 statute that pre-dates the “SANE” law, a minor who is a sexual assault victim may not be allowed an immediate “SANE” examination upon arriving at a hospital emergency room if the minor’s parents or guardian cannot be reached and a physician is not immediately available to authorize the examination.

Under the 1968 statute, a minor can give consent to “medical or surgical care or services” without parental consent if, in the judgment of a treating physician, the minor appears to have been sexually assaulted.  The result of these two overlapping statutes is that forensic examinations have been delayed for hours as the victim, the sexual assault nurse examiner, and the police officer wait for a physician’s authorization.

The bill was approved with a vote of 40-0. It now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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