Youth Health Rights in Canada: A Legal Overview and Scoping Review

 Jennifer L. Gibson, PhD (JCB), Angel Petropanagos, PhD (JCB), Lee Ann Chapman, JD (Sick Kids), Randi Zlotnik-Shaul, LLM, PhD (Sick Kids and JCB)

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In Canada, children and youth have health rights that are protected through various federal, provincial and territorial laws and regulations. However, many young people are not aware of these rights, and even those who are may face barriers in the exercise of their rights, particularly in accessing health services.

To bridge this gap, the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health (YCRH) engaged the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics (JCB) to establish a knowledge base that will inform subsequent phases of YCRH’s Health Rights and Responsibilities Project, which is a partnership with AstraZeneca Canada’s Young Health Program. The specific objectives of this research collaboration were to:

  1. Describe the legal rights of youth in Canada with respect to health, and
  2. Identify key barriers faced by youth in Canada in seeking to exercise their health rights.

The JCB team conducted a legal analysis and a scoping review of the Canadian academic and policy literature to meet these objectives. The legal analysis summarized current provincial-territorial legislation in Canada noting relevant similarities and differences across jurisdictions, particularly related to consent, privacy of personal health information, welfare protections, and protection against discrimination. The scoping review synthesized what is currently known about practical and ethical issues associated with access to health services by Canadian youth as reported in Canadian studies. Although the international literature illuminates other potential facilitators and barriers of youth health rights, the scoping review was limited to the Canadian literature in order to document the experience of youth in the Canadian context.

In this report, the JCB team summarizes key findings of the legal analysis and scoping review, identify key gaps in knowledge and practice, and suggest possible future directions to inform subsequent stages of the YCRH Health Rights and Responsibilities Project based on these findings.