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Requirements for Consent to Medical Treatment

Medical treatment cannot be given without your valid consent.

Your consent is only valid if it is...

  • given when you are competent and of clear mind
  • informed
  • voluntary

You can show your consent in several ways. You may simply allow health care professionals to treat you. You may ask health care professionals to begin treatment. You may sign a consent form agreeing to treatment, although written consent is only usually required for serious treatments, such as surgery.

There are some exceptions to the requirement for your consent to medical treatment. For example, in an emergency situation where you are unable to consent or refuse treatment, health care professionals may treat your immediate condition to save your life without your consent. Also, if you have certain communicable diseases and refuse to consent to treatment that will restore you to a non-infectious state of health, health care professionals may get a court order that requires you to have such treatment.

Q

What does being competent mean?

A

Being competent means being mentally capable of making your own decision. You are mentally capable if you can understand what the treatment is and what the expected effects of the treatment are, as well as any alternative treatments. You must also be able to understand what could happen if you refuse treatment.

There is no particular age required for valid consent to your own medical treatment. You can consent to your own medical treatment if you understand the treatment, alternatives and what could happen if you don't get the treatment. However, if the treatment is not covered by provincial medical services, the health care provider may ask your parents to consent to your treatment if you are a minor (under the age of 18) as you are not able to enter into a contract to pay for treatment.

Q

What does it meant to be of clear mind?

A

Having a clear mind means not being under the influence of any medication or other substance which could cloud your judgment or ability to make a decision about your own treatment.

Q

What does it mean to give informed consent?

A

Informed consent means you know the nature and consequences of the treatment. You have the right to decide whether the risks are greater than the advantages. You may choose to refuse treatment. Your doctor cannot make this decision for you.

Health care providers must explain and help you understand...

  • the nature of the treatment and why it is necessary
  • the usual risks, side effects, or benefit of the treatment
  • any risks that have serious consequences, including death, even if the risk is very small
  • the various treatment choices available
  • how the treatment might affect your life
  • how the treatment may affect your work and financial situation
  • who will perform the treatment or procedure
  • the consequences of refusing treatment

You should make sure that all your questions are answered before you give consent to any treatment.

Q

What does it mean to give voluntary consent?

A

If someone intimidates you or gives you false information to get your consent, your consent is not voluntary. You must decide to give consent on your own not because it is what another person, whether a health care professional or family member, thinks you should do.

You can help ensure your wishes concerning health care decisions are respected even if you lose your ability to consent or refuse treatment by preparing a health care directive. A health care directive allows you to provide direction about future treatment in the event that you become unable to make or communicate health care decisions, or to name a proxy to make those decisions on your behalf.

Q

How old do you have to be to consent to medical treatment?

A

There is no particular age required for valid consent to your own medical treatment. You can consent to your own medical treatment if you understand the treatment, the alternatives and what could happen if you don't get the treatment. Medical personnel must consider your age, level of intelligence and maturity as well as the complexity of the treatment in determining if you can consent.

All medical consent must also be voluntary. This means that the dependence of the young person on their parents must be considered. In this regard things like whether the young person is heavily influenced by what their parents want must be considered. The fact that a young person may be economically dependent on their parents, on the other hand, may not be relevant to whether they can make an independent health care decision.

Although there is no minimum age to consent to medical treatment if the treatment is not covered by provincial medical services the health care provider may ask your parents to consent to your treatment. Parental consent is required in these situations because if you are under 18 you are not able to enter into a contract to pay for treatment.

Young people may be particularly concerned about doctor-patient confidentiality. If a young person has the capacity to consent to medical treatment, the rules of confidentiality that apply are the same as they are for an adult. Information about treatment received must be treated as confidential and not released unless required by law.

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PLEA gratefully acknowledges our primary core funder the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan for their continuing and generous support of our organization.