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Canada high court rules children under 16 have some say over medical treatment

[JURIST] The Canadian Supreme Court [official website] ruled 6-1 [judgment] Friday that children under the age of 16 have the right to make decisions over their own medical treatment if they can demonstrate their decision-making ability, but upheld the constitutionality of statutory schemes that balance the best interests of the child with the right to individual autonomy. The case was brought by a minor who received a blood transfusion despite refusing treatment on the basis of her religious beliefs. A Manitoba court overrode her wishes and authorized the treatment that doctors and the Director of Child and Family Services considered to be in her best interests. The Supreme Court upheld the controlling Manitoba law, which gives minors no control over their medical treatment, but reasoned that:

Interpreting the best interests standard so that a young person is afforded a degree of bodily autonomy and integrity commensurate with his or her ability to exercise mature, independent judgment navigates the tension between an adolescent's increasing entitlement to autonomy as he or she matures and society's interest in ensuring that young people who are vulnerable are protected from harm.

In the US, the debate over the right to refuse medical treatment has been illustrated recently by the case of Daniel Houser [FindLaw materials], whose parents refused treatment of their son based on religious reasons. The state may only interfere [JURIST report] with the rights of fit parents to make decisions over their children for compelling reasons like protecting the safety and well-being of their children. In the UK, children under 18 [NHS materials] who have "the intelligence and ability to understand fully what is involved in a medical procedure ... are considered able to give their permission."

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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