My name is Hillary. (Ngāi Tahu). My husband and I have five children and one grandson. We farm in Taranaki and have contacted our Member of Parliament, Hon Chester Borrows, seeking assistance with respect to the rights of parents to be notified of medical procedures performed on children who are minors.
We are concerned about the lack of parental rights to be informed if a daughter has been interviewed by a counsellor from family planning or school and then referred for an abortion.
One day in September 2009, our 15 year old daughter did not come home from school on the bus. I was worried and rang the school office to find out where she was. The school receptionist could not give me any indication of her whereabouts. At around 5.30 that evening, a community health nurse brought her home. The health nurse sat down at our table and told us she had taken our daughter to New Plymouth for a counselling appointment.
After this day, our daughter began behaving strangely. This was a sudden an unexpected change. She went from being happy in herself to emotionally unstable, with extreme highs and extreme suicidal lows. We wondered what had happened to have triggered this change. We tried to talk to her, but she just wouldn’t talk to us. This was heart breaking for my husband and myself.
Life changed drastically from this point. Our daughter changed. Our life as a family was turned upside down. We were scared to go to sleep because we were unsure if she would be alive the next day.
One day we had a disagreement. I wanted to know why my girl had changed so much and so suddenly. Later that day, she tried to take her life by hanging herself from a rafter in the garage. Her sisters found her and cut her down just in time. It was then that our daughter told us why the health nurse had brought her home a year ago. The nurse had not taken her to a counselling appointment; instead she picked our daughter up from school and took her to an abortion clinic.
There has been no follow up since the abortion. Our daughter was simply taken home and left to get on with the aftermath, and to do so without the support of her family because we had no knowledge of the abortion. We had to watch our daughter suffer, knowing that something is drastically wrong.
I too know the pain and grief that young girls live with after an abortion as when I was 16 I had an abortion and know how it feels to be eaten up inside. It took me 20 years to overcome a choice that brutally hurt me physically and mentally. I know what my girl had to go through, and she had to go through it alone. Lack of parental notification meant that our daughter was denied the support of her family and we were robbed of the ability to properly support and parent our child. We also lost our grandchild.
The school counsellor pointed out to me that she had the legal right to arrange an abortion for a consenting minor. However, the legal abortion was botched and our daughter is infertile as a result.
Our daughter is still recovering. As a family we are standing together to see a change for parental rights. We do not want other families to go through the pain and suffering we have had to endure.
Familial relationships are the backbone of our society. Good familial relationships are to be encouraged and this precept is reinforced across government agencies with incentives through education, the tax systems, welfare agencies and the likes by the payment of child tax credits, working for families, and the like. Parents are kept informed of a child’s progress through school and are penalised with threat of legal sanction if they neglect their roles as parents. Parents are encouraged to do the best by their children by having them immunised, properly fed and cared-for, sheltered, encouraged in learning and development.
Yet in one aspect, parents can be kept at arm’s-length in spite of a lifetime of love and concern for their child.
It should be a right of parenthood that the mum and dad with children in their care, know of medical procedures performed on their children. This is because it is a right that a child, having undergone medical procedures, has the best care and treatment during the procedure and in the recovery and recuperation period. It seems to be in the best interests of young people undergoing medical treatment that they have the best support possible from their parents.
When patients are minors and a decision is made to withhold information of procedures from parents and guardians that decision must be made in full appreciation of the facts, not merely on the perceptions of a stressed child, who may well have a skewed view of the likely response of her parents. That view being coloured by feelings of shame, guilt, a lack of willingness to confront the responsibilities of parenthood themselves, or to account for their behaviours as is normal in a relationship between a parent and a child.
Society, the law and government agencies expect parents to take responsibilities for the behaviours of their children. We do this across government agencies such as health, education, welfare, and justice, yet when it comes to abortion, parents can be locked out of the process and still be left to clean up the mess left behind. Frequently they only get to hear of the procedure when they are dealing with a distraught child who is displaying psychological trauma and acting out in anti-social behaviours such as self-harm or abusive and disorderly or criminal behaviours.
Without knowledge of what lies behind the behaviours exhibited by the child, the parent may react in an unhelpful and inappropriate, yet entirely understandable way, given their lack of understanding of the background to that behaviour.
- The Privacy Act should be read in a way that allows parents who have the custody of children who are minors to be appraised on medical interventions such as abortion.
- Government policy and the implementation of the Privacy Act must reflect the role of the custodial and liable parents, and their right to know of medical interventions with minors.
- Parental care and support should be seen as highly desirable if not critical in the recovery of a minor after a medical intervention.
- Parents should be supported – with advice so they can in turn support their children.
I urge parliament to look at how the Privacy Act and its implementation by government particularly, impacts on families detrimentally. I urge the parliament to allow for parental notification of children in their care before medical procedures especially abortion are performed on those children.