A person can encounter many healthcare problems over the course of his or her life. From broken arms, mental health needs, to unwanted pregnancies, there are many scenarios in which youth require healthcare services. While many believe that youth health issues are up to their parents and/or legal guardians, young people have many rights that they should be aware of.
In general, minors (under the age of 18 in Ontario) have the legal right to make their own healthcare decisions. These decisions can include dental care, surgery, substance addiction treatment, etc. The law presumes that minors are capable of understanding the treatment, the treatment process, as well as the risks and benefits associated with the treatment. It is up to the healthcare practitioner (i.e. doctors, nurses, therapists, etc.) to make the decision regarding the minor’s capabilities. If the doctor finds that the minor is not capable of understanding the proposed treatment, a substitute decision-maker must act on the minor’s behalf; and the minor has a legal right to challenge the finding of incapacity.
Under the Health Care Consent Act, all medical treatments must not be administered until consent has been acquired:
No treatment without consent
A health practitioner who proposes a treatment for a person shall not administer the treatment, and shall take reasonable steps to ensure that it is not administered, unless,
(a) he or she is of the opinion that the person is capable with respect to the treatment, and the person has given consent; or
(b) he or she is of the opinion that the person is incapable with respect to the treatment, and the person’s substitute decision-maker has given consent on the person’s behalf in accordance with this Act. 1996, c. 2, Sched. A, s. 10 (1).
Under the Personal Health Information Protection Act, minors over the age of 16 can act on their own behalf over the collection, use, or disclosure of their medical information, provided that they are capable of understanding the information.
Persons who may consent
If this Act or any other Act refers to a consent required of an individual to a collection, use or disclosure by a health information custodian of personal health information about the individual, a person described in one of the following paragraphs may give, withhold or withdraw the consent:
1. If the individual is capable of consenting to the collection, use or disclosure of the information,
i. the individual, or
Children under the age of 16 have less freedom over their decisions, but still have the right to make decisions over certain issues.
23. (2) If the individual is a child who is less than 16 years of age, a parent of the child or a children’s aid society or other person who is lawfully entitled to give or refuse consent in the place of the parent unless the information relates to,
i. treatment within the meaning of the Health Care Consent Act, 1996, about which the child has made a decision on his or her own in accordance with that Act, or
ii. counselling in which the child has participated on his or her own under the Child and Family Services Act.
Conflict if child capable
If the individual is a child who is less than 16 years of age and who is capable of consenting to the collection, use or disclosure of the information and if there is a person who is entitled to act as the substitute decision-maker of the child under paragraph 2 of subsection (1), a decision of the child to give, withhold or withdraw the consent or to provide the information prevails over a conflicting decision of that person.There are exceptions to this principle, however. For example, disclosure of health information may be justifiable to reduce risks of serious harm:
A health information custodian may disclose personal health information about an individual if the custodian believes on reasonable grounds that the disclosure is necessary for the purpose of eliminating or reducing a significant risk of serious bodily harm to a person or group of persons. 2004, c. 3, Sched. A, s. 40 (1).