Medical Treatment When can I give my own consent?

AuthorSteingard, Jessica

We are in the middle of a global health crisis--the COVID-19 pandemic. With health on everyone's mind, now is a perfect time to talk about when you can give your consent to medical treatments, without your parents' approval. To be clear, by youth we mean anyone under the age of majority in the province where you live. In Alberta, the age of majority is 18 years.

In this column, we are going to look at two related concepts:

  1. Giving consent for medical treatment

  2. Confidentiality between patients and doctors

Giving Consent

If you are a minor (under the age of majority) in Canada, you can generally make your own medical decisions if:

* you are mature enough to make your own informed decisions; and

* you understand the consequences of your decision.

This is called the 'mature minor doctrine'. It is law according to the common law. (Common law means judge-made law, as opposed to laws made by the government.) Alberta uses the mature minor doctrine for youth giving consent to medical treatments.

A health professional will decide if you are capable of making your own decision. They might make you sign a consent form. There is no hard and fast rule about how old or mature you have to be. Generally, you must be more mature to make more important decisions. For example, if you are 16 years old and want to get birth control, your doctor may decide that you are capable of making the decision yourself without your parents. If you are 14 years old and need cancer treatment, your doctor may decide that you are not capable of making this decision by yourself.

If you are capable of making your own health decisions, your parents cannot overrule your decision. There have been many court cases where youth have asked the court to let them make their own medical decisions or where parents want the court to order the youth to undergo treatment. The court will look at all the evidence and decide if you are a 'mature minor'.

There have been other court cases where the government gets involved because the youth and their parents are refusing medical treatment that could save the youth's life. For example, there was a case in Alberta where a 16-year-old refused blood transfusions that would save her life. She was a mature minor. Both her and her parents refused the treatment based on their religious beliefs. The government applied to court to be able to make decisions for the girl. The court found the girl was in need of protective services under Alberta's Child...

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