A.C. v Manitoba (Director of Child and Family Services),  2 SCR 181
This case addresses the issue of children directing their own medical treatment.
A.C. was a 14-year-old Jehovah’s Witness suffering from lower gastrointestinal bleeding caused by Crohn’s Disease. Although her doctor advised against it, as he believed that she was in imminent danger, A.C. signed an “advance medical directive” containing instructions not to be given blood under any circumstances.
A psychiatric evaluation revealed A.C. to be a “mature minor.” She was deemed mentally sound, demonstrated that she understood why a blood transfusion was the best course of treatment and did not fail to comprehend the consequences of her decision to refuse a transfusion. Despite the lawful advance medical directive however, the Director of Child and Family Services apprehended her as a “child in need of protection” and sought an order for treatment under ss. 25(8) and 25(9) of the Manitoba Child and Family Services Act. They read:
- 25(8). Subject to subsection (9), upon completion of a hearing, the court may authorize a medical examination or any medical or dental treatment that the court considers to be in the best interests of the child.
- 25(9). The court shall not make an order under subsection (8) with respect to a child who is 16 years of age or older without the child’s consent unless the court is satisfied that the child is unable
- (a) to understand the information that is relevant to making a decision to consent or not consent to the medical examination or the medical or dental treatment; or
- (b) to appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of making a decision to consent or not consent to the medical examination or the medical or dental treatment.
The application judge granted the order because, according to the legislation, A.C. was she was not technically old enough to know what was or was not in her “best interest.”
A.C. and her parents appealed this order on the grounds the Manitoba Child and Family Services Act violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – more specifically Section 2(a) because A.C.’s right to practice her religion was contravened; Section 7 because the inability of children under 16 to determine their own capacity was an arbitrary restriction; and Section 15 because the Act is discriminatory against her age.
The main question in this case is whether ss. 25(8) and 25(9) are constitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Abella claims that they are, but only if they are interpreted in a way that sufficiently respects an adolescent’s maturity and developing autonomy in a specific medical decision-making context.
Further, she states that competence is not merely possessing the capacity to make a decision, but it is determined by balancing many elements against one another including the adolescent’s ability to exercise mature and independent judgment, influence of family relationships or social affiliations as well as the existence of any emotional vulnerabilities.
When this standard is properly applied and takes into account a young person’s views in accordance with his or her maturity, it will create a situation where the law “is neither arbitrary, discriminatory, nor violative of religious freedom” (para 98).
In the dissent, Justice Binnie agreed with the majority but went even further. He stated that proof of capacity and maturity by way of the “best interest of the child” analysis, entitles a the young person to make the treatment decision, not just to have “input” into a judge’s consideration of what the judge believes to best (para 202). Under Justice Abella’s approach, the court still has the final say and may or may not give effect to the adolescent’s view.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court upheld the decision to dismiss A.C.’s appeal.
Although A.C. and her family technically lost the constitutional challenge, they did convince the most influential lawmakers in Canada that all adolescents under the age of 16 should have the right to demonstrate sufficient maturity for the purposes of directing their own medical treatment and have the decision respected.