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Competence in Children and Adolescents

Competence in Children and Adolescents

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Competence in Children and Adolescents

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  1. Competence in Childrenand Adolescents Rels 300 / Nurs 330 October 2013 300/330 - appleby

  2. Involving Children in Medical Decisions • Christine Harrison, Nuala Kenny, Mona Sidarous, and Mary Rowell • This article is the Bioethics for Cliniciansentry for medical decision-making and children • 300/330 - appleby

  3. Children’s capacity to consent to treatment Infants and very young children • No decision-making capacity • Parents or guardians make decisions • What is in the child’s best interest? • If parents refuse to consent to a treatment which is clearly in the child’s best interest, the courts can assume the parental role and authorize the treatment • Examples? 300/330 - appleby

  4. Primary-school children • Children are not likely to have full decision-making capacity • They are not yet mature in their physical, intellectual or emotional development • However, children may be able to participate in making medical decisions • Information appropriate to their age should be provided • Verbal assent to any treatment should be sought • Strong and sustained dissent should not be overruled lightly 300/330 - appleby

  5. 11-year-old Samantha(case introduction) • If further treatment is imposed on Samantha, how is she likely to react? • What will this mean for her quality of life? • What are her chances of remission with treatment? • What will be the consequence of no treatment? • Because death is an “irreversible harm,” the level of capacity needed to refuse treatment is very high. • Does Samantha have this capacity? 300/330 - appleby

  6. How to proceed? What are the potential benefits to the child of chemotherapy? • benefits of no chemo? What are the potential harmful consequences to the child? • Physical suffering; psychological or spiritual distress; death What are the moral, spiritual, and cultural values of the child’s family? If a decision is made to initiate chemo against Samantha’s wishes, what will this mean? Read resolution of case 300/330 - appleby

  7. Adolescents Many adolescents have mature decision-making capacities • Understand and communicate relevant information • Think and choose with some independence • Assess risks, harms & benefits; consider alternatives and consequences • Have fairly stable personal values Parents should be viewed as consultants 300/330 - appleby

  8. … on the other hand • adolescents can be impulsive, immature, unable to assess short term vs. longer term goals • adolescents may be unduly influenced by parents and obedience/non-compliance issues • or by conformity/acceptance peer issues • is there a uniform age of competence to consent in Canada? 300/330 - appleby

  9. Possible reasons for limitingchildren’s autonomy • present day autonomy may not fully preserve life-time autonomy for the child • children’s decisions are based on limited life experiences • decisions may be impetuous • child’s decision may conflict with family interests and goals • yet child will still live with and be supported by his or her family 300/330 - appleby

  10. How should disagreementsbe resolved? If parent and child disagree, should the physician side with one or the other? • under what conditions might this be appropriate? • when might this be inappropriate? • Is it less an issue of respecting the child’s autonomy, and more about determining what is best for the child? • who is likely to be the better judge of this? 300/330 - appleby

  11. What’s the law in Canada? • differs by province • some prescribe an age of consent • others provide for an assessment of capacity • children may be designated as “mature minors” for purposes of making their own decisions • in NS, a child may not give autonomous consent until the age of majority = 19 300/330 - appleby

  12. Decisions for children Parents are morally and legally responsible for the well-being of their children they are regarded as decision makers for their children unless: • the parents are themselves incompetent; • the parents have unresolvable differences; • the parents are abusive or neglectful in caring for the child 300/330 - appleby

  13. If a treatment is clearly in the child’s best interests, and parents refuse treatment, then a court order may be sought to provide treatment. If a treatment is unlikely to be helpful, then no court order is needed to withdraw treatment. If a child’s best interests are uncertain, a 2nd opinion should be sought. If there is disagreement, an ethics advisory committee should be consulted to assist with reaching a mutually acceptable decision. see Treatment decisions for infants and children; Canadian Pediatrics Society, Bioethics Committee 300/330 - appleby

  14. 14-year-old girl from Vernon, BC 8 apr 2005 – BC Supreme Court • Girl, being treated for leukemia, refused to have a potentially life-saving blood transfusion – against her religious beliefs • BC Child, Family & Community Services sought and were granted a court order to perform blood transfusion • claimed girl was too young to make this decision for herself • girl challenged the court decision 300/330 - appleby

  15. girl has cancer • she has already had surgery, chemotherapy, and survived a blood clot on her heart • claims she is “fully competent to make my own decisions” • seeking to be recognized as a “mature minor” What ruling should the BC Supreme Court make? 300/330 - appleby

  16. Girl Court girl is mature enough to make an informed decision knows that refusal could lead to death agreed that the decision was hers to make BUT – the govt. has a stronger obligation to preserve the girls’ life  transfusion should be done + freedom of religion is not an absolute – cannot override her right to life • refuses a transfusion • has a “passionate” desire not to die • claims she is capable of making her own decision • blood transfusion against her beliefs 300/330 - appleby

  17. What happens next? Mom, Dad & 14-yr-old cancer patient travel to Ontario • could doctors at Sick Kids’ Hospital treat her without a transfusion? • doctors said that they could try to do that, but they would need to retain the option of performing a transfusion if needed to save her life • an Ontario court judge orders the family to return to BC where the girl is under the guardianship of the BC government 300/330 - appleby

  18. An agreement is reached • following the family’s return to BC, an agreement was reached involving the director of Child, Family & Community Service, the teenager, her parents and the Vancouver hospital • the girl would receive her chemotherapy treatment at a bloodless treatment centre in New York • after 3 months of treatment, she returned to British Columbia near the end of August 300/330 - appleby

  19. When she returned to Canada, she told reporters that she hoped her experience would create change in the Canadian medical system. "I hope that other doctors and hospitals will learn from this experience [in New York]," she said. "They've treated me as a woman and not as a child." In 2009, at age 19, Sarah died from her leukemia. 300/330 - appleby

  20. The case of Bethany Hughes • diagnosed with leukemia at age 16 • in Alberta, this age is under the age for legal consent • doctors at the Alberta Children’s Hospital found her to be competent to make her own treatment decisions • Bethany refused to consent to blood transfusions • parents were divided on this 300/330 - appleby

  21. Father Mother in keeping with teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bethany should not receive blood products Bethany is old enough to hold these beliefs for herself Bethany should have the right to refuse blood • Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood products for religious reasons • but if the only way to save her life was to proceed with a transfusion, then Bethany should receive a blood transfusion • Bethany (at 16) is vulnerable to social pressures of her religious community 300/330 - appleby

  22. Why is this so important? • was Bethany old enough for legal consent? • was she assessed as capable to give her own consent, or as incompetent? • what ethical considerations can be used to decide whether Bethany’s refusal of blood products should be respected? • did her doctors support her right to make her own choice? • why did the Alberta court take this right away from her? The judge ruled that her refusal to consent was not free; she was coerced by her religious beliefs and community. 300/330 - appleby

  23. Alberta’s Attorney General • stepped in to gain temporary custody of Bethany • given 38 blood transfusions against her will and without her consent • Each time, she tried to pull the medical tubes from her arms while she was bedridden at Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary • only when it became clear that the treatments were ineffective (and she was going to die) were the blood transfusions stopped 300/330 - appleby

  24. What Happened Next? • Bethany’s lawyers filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada • the Court refused to hear the case Bethany died in September of that year. Read more: 300/330 - appleby

  25. What does this mean? • no one really knows • most bioethicists and most Canadian physicians would have supported Bethany’s right to refuse blood transfusions because she was determined to be competent to make a mature and informed decision • many bioethicists and physicians would have supported Bethany’s choice even if neither of her parents supported her • Many teenagers currently receive medical treatment (including contraception and abortion information and services) prior to any age of consent – will this situation be forced to change? 300/330 - appleby