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Consent is the choice to allow or not allow something to happen, such as treatment. Find out more about consent, who gives it and how it is given.

Key points

  • Consent is a choice a person makes to give permission or not for something to happen, such as a treatment or procedure.
  • Sometimes you can give consent by saying yes but in other cases you or your parent/guardian will need to give formal written consent.
  • Before agreeing to something, you should fully understand what you are giving consent for, including reasoning for the procedure, risks and alternate options.
  • In some provinces, teenagers can give consent themselves but in others you must be older than 18.

What is consent?

Consent is the choice a person makes to allow or not allow something to happen. Giving consent is like agreeing to something ahead of time. In health care, you and/or your parents/caregivers will be asked to give your consent before you have any kind of tests or therapy or before any decisions are made that involve you.

While giving consent involves agreeing to something ahead of time, you can choose to talk more about what you agreed to at any time during your treatment.

How do I give consent?

Sometimes giving consent is as simple as saying yes or showing you agree. For example, you consent to a routine blood test by showing the phlebotomist (the person who collects blood) your arm. This is called simple or implied consent and is ok when there aren't a lot of risks involved.

When a test or therapy is considered more risky, you and/or your parent/caregiver will be asked to give formal or written consent by signing a form. You will be asked to give written consent before:

  • tests such as lumbar punctures, biopsies and some scans
  • surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • any procedure that requires a general anaesthetic (medicine that puts you to sleep)
  • taking part in a research study

Of course, before you consent to something, you will need to fully understand what you're agreeing to. Your doctor or nurse practitioner will explain:

  • the reasons for the test, therapy or research study
  • what exactly will happen and when
  • the potential benefits of the test or therapy or of taking part in the research study
  • the potential risks
  • any other options you could choose instead
  • what would happen if you chose not to have the test or therapy or take part in the research study

You may also be given a sheet with all this information so that you and/or your parent/caregiver can think it over and discuss it. It's your right to have all the facts, so if you have any questions or if there is anything you don't understand, make sure you ask. It is important and helpful that you ask questions so that you understand, so don’t be embarrassed to do this!

Who gives consent?

Different countries and provinces have different laws about who is able to give consent. In many provinces, teenagers who are able to understand the options can give consent themselves. In others, like Quebec, you must be older than 18. No matter if you or your parent ultimately gives consent, you should be a part of making the decision.

What else should I know about consent?

  • Giving consent is completely voluntary! This means no one can force you or your parent/caregiver to consent to anything you don’t want to do. If you are too young to understand the treatment, test or research project or if you have an impairment this may affect your ability to provide consent.
  • Part of giving consent means weighing the good things (potential benefits) and the bad things (potential risks) about the treatment, test or research project. Consenting to something that seems difficult or involves more risk means that you should talk about it as much as you need to with your parent/caregiver and your health-care team. You should have the chance to talk to everyone about what this means for you.
  • If you’re unsure or uncomfortable about giving consent, it’s ok to let your parent/caregiver decide. If you don’t want to give consent, it is ok to say that to your parent/caregiver, health-care team and researchers. What’s important is that you discuss your feelings with them and everyone involved. Sometimes you may not feel well enough to make the decision. That’s ok too. Your health-care team will work with you and your family to make sure the best decision is made for you.
  • Even if it is your parent/caregiver who gives formal consent, you may still be asked for your assent. Assent means that you understand and agree with your parent’s decision to give consent. You may give assent just by saying yes or by signing a form. If you don’t want to give your assent, usually the doctor, researcher or another member of your health-care team will try to understand why, and will try to help you and your parent/caregiver reach an agreement.
  • Your health-care team won’t be upset or treat you any differently if you or your parent/caregiver don’t consent to something they’ve suggested. It’s your choice and they must still treat you the same way and give you the best care they can no matter what you choose.
  • After giving consent you can still change your mind at any time for any reason. You just need to tell your health-care team and you can stop the procedure or quit the research study.

The bottom line is that it’s your body and your life! Part of growing up is taking part in making important decisions that affect you.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019