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Court: Only One Parent Needs To Sign Off On Surgery

Stethoscope and gavel against a white backdrop.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

In what could be first-of-its-kind case in Florida, an appeals court Wednesday rejected arguments that both parents need to sign off before a child can undergo surgery.
The ruling, by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, upheld an Escambia County circuit judge's decision in a case in which parents had separated and the mother gave consent for a 3-year-old child to have adenoid and ear-tube surgery.

The father, Imad S. Angeli, had objected to the child undergoing surgery and filed a lawsuit against physician Evelyn Kluka and the Nemours Children's Clinic, alleging battery and intentional interference with a parent-child relationship, Wednesday's ruling said.

But the appeals-court panel found that state law only requires the consent of one parent and pointed to a potentially "untenable" situation if medical providers had to navigate disputes between parents about performing procedures.

"We conclude, just as the trial court did, that Florida law does not require health care providers to assume the burden of refereeing or going to court to resolve disputes between parents, so long as at least one legally authorized person provides consent," said the nine-page ruling, written by Judge Susan Kelsey and joined by Judge T. Kent Wetherell and Associate Judge Angela Dempsey. "One would hope that parents committed to successful co-parenting, as they should be, would resolve these disputes between themselves or with the informal assistance of counselors or advisors. Failing that, a parent seeking to prevent the rendition of medical care or treatment to which the other parent has consented can go to court to seek an injunction and resolve the dispute."

The Escambia County circuit judge, Ross M. Goodman, noted that the dispute appeared to be a case of "first impression" --- meaning a first-of-its-kind case in Florida, Wednesday's ruling said. The appeals court also pointed to "limited analogous case law" and cited one decade-old article in a legal publication about the issue.

Angeli, who the ruling said was formerly known as Imad S. Girgis, was going through divorce proceedings with his wife and had equal custody rights to their two children. The mother, who is not identified in Wednesday's ruling, initially scheduled adenoid surgery for both children, but the procedures were canceled after the father called the doctor and objected.

The mother rescheduled surgery for the younger child about three months later. The father said he informed a member of the surgeon's staff that he did not consent to the surgery, which was performed with the approval of the mother, according to the ruling. The surgeon noted in a medical chart that a nurse had informed her before the surgery that the parents had reached agreement on the procedure --- though Angeli alleged the mother had misrepresented his position.

Nevertheless, the appeals court said no state law requires medical providers to get consent from both parents.

"The bottom line is that health care providers are not required to referee parental disputes about medical care for their minor children, and may render medical care or treatment upon the consent of only one parent,'' the ruling said.