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Senator Vitale

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 Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

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.

“Time is of the essence when gathering forensic evidence in cases of sexual assault. Every minute matters, and we must do everything we can to protect child victims of sexual assault in those early but critical stages following an attack,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “Removing the necessity for parental consent to provide any emergency or urgent care required to treat victims who are minors will expedite the process and allow healthcare professionals to do their jobs in the best interests of the patient.”

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.

“When it comes to preserving the health and well-being of vulnerable children who appear to have been sexually assaulted, we must look beyond the old ways of the past,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “This legislation brings our laws up to date and removes any conflicting provisions that are counter-productive to the process of collecting evidence and caring for minors who have endured such a physically and emotionally traumatic experience as sexual assault.”

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 9-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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