What happens when a person in Ontario becomes disabled or incapacitated, to the extent that the person cannot make decisions about his or her own health care or treatment?
In short, someone else is authorized or appointed to make those decisions for the incapacitated person, subject to certain rules and duties imposed by law.
However, we have a hierarchy of decision-making power in Ontario.
Here is an excellent article by Sydney Osmar of Hull & Hull explaining this hierarchy and how personal health care decisions are regulated for incapable people:
"Section 20 of the Health Care Consent Act (“HCCA”) provides for a legislative hierarchy of substitute decision makers for persons who have been found incapable with respect to treatment. The hierarchy is as follows:
- The incapable person’s guardian of the person;
- The incapable person’s attorney for personal care;
- The incapable person’s representative appointed by the Consent and Capacity Board;
- The incapable person’s spouse or partner;
- A child or parent of the incapable person, or an agency that replaces the parent’s authority;
- A parent of the person who only has a right of access;
- A brother or sister of the incapable person; and
- Any other relative of the incapable person.
Those in the above list may only give or refuse consent on behalf of the incapable person if they are: at least 16 years of age, are not prohibited by court order, are available, and are willing to assume this responsibility. A person from the above hierarchy may only act as the substitute decision maker with regard to treatment, if there is not a person who also meets these requirements who ranks higher within the hierarchy.
Sections 20(5) and 20(6) of the HCCA sets out that if no one in the above list meets the requirements to make treatment decisions, or, if there are two equally ranking parties who both meet requirements but disagree on the treatment decision, the decision will devolve to the Public Guardian and Trustee (“PGT”).
As is clear by the placement within the above hierarchy, the act of granting a power of attorney for personal care (“POAPC”) holds great weight when it comes to determining substitute decision makers with regard to treatment decisions. However, the significance of the act of revoking a POAPC in relation to the legislative hierarchy is less clear.
For example, it is quite common for a person to grant a POAPC to their spouse or child, however, in revoking the POAPC, the spouse or child could still remain the legal substitute decision maker under the section 20 hierarchy, should there be no other higher ranking individual willing and able to make treatment decisions, and if the grantor fails to execute a new POAPC.
I have located two decisions of the Consent and Capacity Board (the “Board”), which suggests that in such circumstances, the Board will pull language from other sections of the HCCA to circumvent the hierarchy provided under section 20, where it is clear to do so would be in the incapable person’s best interests.
In A(I) Re, Mrs. I.A. had previously appointed her two children as her attorneys for care. However, this POAPC was later revoked, with Mrs. I.A. informing her lawyer she feared her two children would be unable to reach agreements on important health care decisions. Two distant relatives were instead appointed pursuant to a new POAPC. However, when Mrs. I.A. lost capacity, and a treatment decision needed to be made, the distant relatives felt they were not best suited to make such a decision.
Both children applied to act as Mrs. I.A.’s representative under s. 33 of the HCCA. In coming to its decision the Board accepted that Mrs. I.A.’s overt act of revoking the POAPC that appointed her children was a prior expressed relevant value and belief, however, this did not impact the fact that both children still qualified as decision makers under the section 20 hierarchy. The Board ultimately determined that it was not in Mrs. I.A.’s best interests to have her children act as decision makers, and concluded they could not agree, such that the decision devolved to the PGT.
In D(D) Re, this issue again arose, where the incapable person, D.D. (prior to becoming incapable) granted a POAPC to her husband, later revoking the POAPC when she believed that her husband would not act in her best interests. Because a new POAPC was never executed, the husband remained the legal decision maker under section 20. D.D.’s daughter, J.R., brought an application to the Board to act as her representative. In coming to its conclusion, the Board noted that it was clear that D.D. had not understood that by revoking the POAPC, her husband would remain the decision maker under the HCCA hierarchy, and that it was equally clear her intention had been to remove her husband as the legal decision maker. Therefore, to circumvent the hierarchy, the Board turned to a best interests analysis and ultimately appointed D.D.’s daughter as her decision maker."