A. Introduction and Background
The law related to legal capacity and decision-making is unavoidably extensive, elaborate and multi-layered and, for some people, perplexing, dealing as it does with difficult ethical and practical issues, and attempting to balance needs of diverse groups across a range of circumstances. The law attempts to incorporate nuance and to be responsive to fluctuating needs. While this nuance and responsiveness is in many ways a benefit, it does make the law more challenging to implement successfully. During consultations, all stakeholders pointed to shortcomings in understandings of the law and in the skills necessary to apply it as key issues to be addressed in any review. The need for improvements in education and information has therefore been a theme throughout this project, and arises in every chapter of this Interim Report. This chapter does not attempt to replicate this material, but to provide a focussed examination of some key elements.
It should be noted that, despite its importance, the provision of information and education is not a panacea for all of the issues affecting this area of the law. Information on its own does not create the ability to act on it. The draft recommendations for reform in this area must be understood in conjunction with other draft recommendations throughout this Interim Report, particularly including those related to monitoring and oversight, and dispute resolution and rights enforcement.
B. Current Ontario Law and Practice
1. Understanding Needs for Education and Information
In considering reforms to promote better understanding (and therefore better implementation) of the law, the needs of four groups must be taken into account:
· persons directly affected (i.e., those whose legal capacity is either lacking or in doubt);
· persons providing assistance as substitutes or, if the LCO’s recommendations are implemented, supporters;
· professionals who are expected to provide expert implementation of the law (including health practitioners expected to assess capacity and obtain consent, and lawyers expected to create powers of attorney or to assist with disputes or rights enforcement); and
· third parties who interact with the law in the context of providing services or contracting with respect to a transaction.
The needs of these groups will differ, as well as the most effective methods of reaching them.
Persons directly affected by the law will be the most profoundly affected by the quality and extent of the information they receive about the law, as this will substantially shape their ability to make meaningful choices in this context and to protect and enforce their rights. Except for those persons granting powers of attorney who have sophistication in handling affairs or easy access to professional assistance, this is also the group that will likely have the most challenges in receiving adequate information, or even in realizing that they could benefit from information. The conditions affecting their legal capacity will affect their ability to understand and appreciate information about the law itself. Many persons directly affected by the law will require accommodations or supports in receiving or accessing information. As well, they will very often encounter the law at a time of crisis, when it is difficult to seek out and process information.
Persons who act as substitutes or supporters will, for the most part, be family members or friends with no particular expertise in understanding or applying the law. Many will also be acting as caregivers, and in most cases, they will not be paid for their activities. In their roles, they will be often required to navigate extensive processes or intimidating institutions, understand novel medical or financial concepts, develop skills as advocates, and manage difficult family or professional relationships. In the LCO’s consultations, these family members often emphasized the challenges of their roles, and the lack of supports available to them.
Third parties most often do not have issues surrounding legal capacity and decision-making as a core element of their enterprise. It will in most cases be front-line workers with no particular skill set in this area who will directly encounter issues related to legal capacity and decision-making, and who must identify potential issues and apply correct procedures. It is also at the front-lines where pressures related to limited resources, competing needs and the tension between standardization and responsiveness to individual needs will be most acute. Large organizations, such as financial institutions or hospitals, will generally develop internal expertise, perhaps including policies, protocols or guidelines. Smaller organizations may not have the ability to develop these kinds of internal resources. It is important to emphasize that third parties are, by and large, well-intentioned in their efforts to serve their clients, and that they may be operating in contexts of considerable constraint and difficulty. There may be no simple solutions to the ethical, practical or resource challenges that these institutions or professionals may face in providing services to what may at times be their most vulnerable clients, although opportunities do exist to deepen provider competencies in this area through existing institutions and programs.
Those professionals who must apply the law as part of their professional duties must deal with the most complicated and challenging issues under the law, and have the most significant responsibility for ensuring the effective and appropriate implementation of the law. This group includes the professionals who carry out the different forms of assessment of capacity; lawyers who assist with the preparation of powers of attorney or with resolving disputes arising under the law; and hospital or long-term care home staff who develop internal policies and procedures for addressing these issues.
2. Some Legislative History: The Advocacy Act Requirements
When the current legislative scheme was initially proposed, it contained three statutes: the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 (SDA), the Consent to Treatment Act (the predecessor to the Health Care Consent Act, 1996) and the Advocacy Act. The Advocacy Act is described at length in the Discussion Paper, Part Four, Ch III.B. For the purposes of this discussion, it suffices to note that the Advocacy Act and the accompanying provisions in the SDA and Consent to Treatment Act made extensive provision for rights advice. At key transition points in the lives of persons affected by the law where important rights were at stake, advocates were made responsible for providing information and otherwise interacting with the individual in various ways, including the following:
· notifying the individual of the decision or determination that had been made about her or him;
· explaining the significance of the decision or determination in a way that took into account the special needs of that person;
· explaining the rights that the individual had in that circumstance, such as a right to appeal the decision or determination; and
· in some cases, ascertaining the wishes of the individual (e.g., whether he or she wished to challenge the decision or determination) and to convey those wishes to the appropriate body (e.g., the Public Guardian and Trustee).
Action on these decisions or determinations could not be taken until the advocate had carried out these duties, or had made efforts to do so and had been prevented, for example by contravention of their rights of entry. This role was engaged in the following situations, among others:
· the appointment of a statutory guardian of property following an examination under the Mental Health Act;
· the appointment of the Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) as a temporary guardian following an investigation into serious adverse effects;
· applications for validation or registration of powers of attorney for personal care;
· applications for court-appointed guardianships;
· court orders for assessment of capacity, including orders for apprehension of the individual to enforce assessments;
· findings of incapacity with respect to treatment made within a psychiatric facility;
· findings of incapacity with respect to “controlled acts” in a non-psychiatric facility;
· applications to the CCB for directions regarding the prior expressed wishes of an individual; and
· applications to the CCB for permission to depart from the prior expressed wishes of an individual.
These requirements were removed in 1996, when the Advocacy Act was repealed and the Consent to Treatment Act replaced by the current Health Care Consent Act, 1996 (HCCA). While the current legislation contains some provisions related to the provision of information, they are minimal compared to what was originally contemplated.
3. Current Statutory Requirements
Currently, the SDA, Part III of the Mental Health Act (MHA) and the HCCA include the following requirements for information to be provided to affected individuals at a limited number of key transition points.
Assessing Capacity: Because an assessment of capacity can in a number of circumstances have very significant automatic effects on the