Area of Law: Health Law
Answer # 693
Consenting or refusing health treatmentRegion: Ontario Answer # 693
Under the law in Ontario, an adult patient, who is mentally competent, normally has the sole right to refuse or consent to any health care treatment, even if refusal increases the seriousness of the illness or the possibility of death. Ontario’s Health Care Consent Act does not specify at what age a minor may give legal independent consent for health care. The age may vary depending on the individual and the complexity of the decision to be made. Generally, however, a minor who is mentally competent and at least 16 years of age can legally give consent for health care treatments.
In most cases, unless it is an emergency situation, a health care professional must always obtain a patient’s consent before starting any treatment or procedure.
For anyone under the age of medical consent, a parent’s or guardian’s consent is usually needed. However, if a medical practitioner believes a minor understands the treatment’s nature and consequences and it is in his or her best interests, the minor’s consent can be enough. If a minor is incapable of giving consent and parents are not available, a legally qualified medical practitioner can also go ahead in an emergency. If parents refuse consent or consent is unattainable, any person may also apply to a court for consent.
In some provinces, those declared mentally incompetent may also refuse treatment if they inform a health practitioner that they intend to apply to a government review body, for example, Ontario’s Consent and Capacity Board, for a review of the incapacity finding.
Informed consent required
A patient’s consent to health treatment can only be considered legal if they have been properly informed about the procedure in advance. This includes a full explanation of the treatment and the risks associated with it, the risks of not accepting treatment, and information about alternative treatments.
The right to ask questions about treatment
If a health professional does not provide you with information before treatment, you have the right to ask questions to fully understand all your choices and the risks involved. It is usually a good idea to prepare questions before arriving at your appointment.
Waiving legal rights upon consent to treatment
If a health care professional asks you to sign a form acknowledging your consent to treatment, read it carefully so that you can make an informed decision. In serious cases, if you are unsure about consenting or if you think you are being asked to waive any rights, you may want to consult another health care provider or a lawyer.
Treatment without consent
If a health professional provides treatment to you without your consent, you can register a complaint by calling their professional organization. In serious cases, such as medical malpractice, you may want to consult a lawyer about your right to sue.
Your consent or that of a guardian or substitute decision-maker may be withdrawn at any time. The only exceptions are in cases where withdrawal may endanger your life or create serious problems, and when you no longer have the physical or mental capacity to withdraw consent.
The professional organization for doctors is called at The College of Physicians and Surgeon. For the names and telephone numbers of other health professional organizations, contact the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care or visit its website at health.gov.on.ca.
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