Starson Verses Swayze: The Dilemmas That the Doctors Are Faced With When Handling Patients


The case involving Starson whose real name is Professor Scott Starson, or Scott Schutzman verses doctor Russell Fleming is an example of the dilemmas that the doctors are faced with when handling patients. According to the Canadian law, a person that has the ability to consent to treatment should not be administered the same without their prior knowledge.

There are various provisions that are given under the law concerning the capacity of a patient to consent to treatment. A patient that is in the right mind is allowed to choose the kind of medication that should be administered to him or her and more so the individual has a right to refuse any kind of treatment intended on him before his or her consent (Gilbert & Maher 60). Before the doctors administer any kind of medication to a patient, they are first supposed to seek for consent from their respective patients. In situations where the patient does not have the ability to consent because of certain reasons, the doctors may administer the right treatment with full knowledge that it will be of significant benefit to the patient in question (Epstein,79).

The name and level of the court that rendered the decision in the case

The supreme court of Canada was the one that issued the final judgment of the case which involved Starson and Swayze.

Judge or Judges Who Jotted the Decision for the Case

The main judge that was reviewing the case was, Admin. L.R. (3d) 211), Molloy J.

’Judge or judges who jotted the dissenting decision’

The dissenting judges in the case included McLachlin C.J. and Gonthier and LeBel JJ.

The facts of the case

The facts that surrounded the case were that Mr. Starson was administered treatment that was contrary to his wish. He had a mental illness that was ascertained from such past cases that it would have diverse effects on his health if urgent measures were not taken (Devlin & Pothier, 36). Even the though the action taken by the doctors was medically right, it was not legally correct simply because Mr. Starson had not consented to the same. Mr. Starson was suffering from a bipolar disorder which may have diverse effects on him if corrective measures are not taken in urgently. Bipolar is a condition that is caused due to high levels of energy in an individual due to depression. Starson seemed to be ignorant of the facts about the disorder which limited him from allowing the doctors to take corrective measures to solve it.

The main legal issues raised in the case

Legal procedures of the case

The above case is was of complex nature considering the nature of the illness that Mr. Starson is suffering from. Scott had some mental complications of which the doctor felt that he was not able to make an informed decision and so the doctor thought it right to go a head and give urgent medical treatment. Even though Starson was mentally challenged, he did not consent to the treatment that he was to be offered by the doctor (Sworden, 88). He pointed out that if he was to be given the opportunity to make consent whether to choose the medication or not, he could have not given in to take the medication because the drugs could make him face the risk of loosing his memory or have some other health complications (Vago & Nelson, 150). The argument of the case was based on various assumptions that were made by the lawyers and medical practitioners. Despite the fact that the law requires an individual to consent to any kind of treatment, it is only a qualified doctors who may have a clear understanding of how dangerous a certain medical condition can be to an individual. Despite the responsibility that they have to ensure that an individual’s health is protected, they are limited by such laws that require them to obtain subsequent consent from the concerned individual.

The law has put forth measures that are summarized in the health care consent act that need to be followed by all medical practitioners when dealing with health care issues. It may not matter how urgent the case may be, but as long as the patient has the ability to speak and make decisions on his health, the doctor is obliged to listen and subsequently act according to such requirements. It may also be difficult to tell unless through medical check ups are done to determine whether an individual has the capacity to consent. Some people may actually speak not because they know what is required but because of the influence that their health condition has put them through (Filsinger 178). For instance, an individual that is under the influence of alcohol may not be able to speak sense due to the influences that the alcohol has put his mind through. Starson case was similar to such a condition where the doctors felt that he was not in the right mind to consent and that medical treatment was inevitable. There was a heated debate between the court and the doctor on whether administering such kind of treatment to Starson was legal or not.

Areas of conflict

According to the judgments that were passed by the court, it was identified that since Starson had shown disinterest of being administered with the medication, then the doctor had no right to treat him. What gave the argument a stronger support is the fact that Starson refused the treatment based on the fact that it will have made him suffer from side effects that he seemed to know well about. According to the court, Starson was in the right mind and that his reasons were valid enough for a consideration by the court (Glannon 100). The argument on the side of the doctors was that necessary medical check ups had been carried to reveal that the health condition of Starson was at risk and that he had to be granted immediate treatment. Even though he refused the treatment, the nature of his ailment was mental and hence signifying to the doctors that he did not have the ability to consent. The doctor administering the treatment was also convinced beyond doubt the medications that they were offering to Starson would be helpful to his condition rather than cause him the side effects that he had mentioned.

In passing judgment in such cases, the courts will not only look at the reasoning behind the actions of the conflicting parties but also what the law has to say towards it. The law is usually implemented for the sake of ensuring that the two parties are handled without any form of bias. The judge is to ensure that all the necessary procedures are followed and that justice is administered (Flood 233). Even though both parties may be justified in their own capacities considering the reasons that they give, the court will have to come up with a judgment. In most cases, one party has to loose and the other one gains. This is the main reason why laws have been established, they are to guide the court in reaching decisions when they are faced with such complex issues. The laws are also to be understood clearly by the public and followed accordingly to avoid confusions of any kind. There is law and order that needs to be maintained which is facilitated by the written codes (Hayek, 24).

Laws for different situations

Depending on the situation and the environment, there is usually an appropriate law to govern the people. Laws are mostly implemented basing on the economic activities of the people and the agreements that they enter into everyday. For instance due to numerous business activities and the agreements that the concerned parties have to go through, there are commercial and contract laws to govern them. The same also applies to the education and commercial sectors to mention but a few. Some cases may be of such a complex nature that it will require the court to combine different provisions as they may apply to the offence (Vayda & Satterfield 67). It also reaches a point when brand new cases are reported in court of which none of the written laws will be sufficient enough to ensure justice (Barnett, 310). This is the time when it is realized that current laws have to be amended to suit the changes that are taking place. There is also usually a need for brand new acts to be passed in the government to accommodate special requirements of the people. Judgments that have been passed in relation to a certain case are usually kept so that they can be referred to by the judges in case they encounter similar cases. This is usually done by the courts so that they are on the safe side just in case the parties relate to what had been passed earlier on.

Starson V. Swayze is a case of which the medical law was used to pass the judgment upon the doctor. According to the act, the doctor was not allowed to offer any kind of treatment if the patient has not approved it. Under the same act, it states that before the doctor administers any kind of treatment, he or she should negotiate with the patient concerning it with the aim of explaining to them the likely results of the treatment. This is usually to prepare them for the outcome and also make them choose from the various alternatives the most appropriate treatment (McColl, 134). The court realizes that there are different kinds of treatments that are available to treat a particular illness. The treatments will have varying side effects depending on the medical history or the procedure used to administer the treatment. It is hence necessary for the doctors to make the necessary clarifications and obtain consent to not only protect their patients but also avoid any legal issues against them. Mostly, the law is meant to protect the ordinary citizens (Devlin & Pothier, 78). This is simply because they are considered to be the most vulnerable individuals. Medical practitioners and other professionals are usually taken through the legal requirements of their professions which keeps them at par with such issues. The other citizens may however not know how and when the law protects them and therefore have to rely on lawyers.

Ignorance and consent

Ignorance to law may however not be sufficient to guarantee protection to any law. Despite the various provisions that are provided to assist ignorant parties, there are various conditions that have to be fulfilled for such to be applicable. For instance in the case of Starson V. Swayze, Starson may have had the strength not to consent to the treatment but not have the ability of preventing the doctors from administering the treatment they are given (Lewis 45). Most patients are usually ignorant of the fact that they have a right to tell the doctor the kind of treatment that they want. This is usually due to the absolute trust that they have with the doctors and the fact that they may have no better alternative. In such circumstances where the doctor is in complete control, they are required to obtain medical reports of the individuals past health as well as other health histories. They are also to collaborate with their next of kin for the purpose of obtaining the right treatment to them. Doctors may be encountered with certain urgent cases where they are required to take urgent steps. However, unless they obtain sufficient consent from the patient or their next of kin, they can only offer first aid. Doctors and other medical practitioners are not supposed to take advantage of the patient’s inability to consent to treatment or the ignorance on the part of their next of kin (Vago & Nelson, 67). They are to offer appropriate explanation and ensure that they have understood what they are implying. Such an assurance is usually confirmed by a signature from them and a witness who in most cases is the next of kin. Such may seem simple but are very crucial in setting the doctor free to go on with the treatment. When it comes to the law on an individual’s health, the court has to ensure that correct measures are taken (Alexandrowicz 63). This is done considering the economic significance of the individual and the possible dependants that surround them. In case of any serious side effects that may be observed after the treatment has been administered, the family members or the patient may decide to sue the doctor for negligence or any probable mistake. It is only the prior agreements that were entered into by the doctors and victim that will serve as evidence to the court when passing the necessary judgment.


Starson V. Swayze is a case that has served as an example to many other similar cases that have been recorded. It has been used as a reference to show the doctors the importance of heeding to the requirements of their patients even when their pleas seem to make no sense to them. What may be considered as incapacity for the patient to consent may be considered to be so especially when something negative happens. Despite their medical expertise, they are not to assume that their patients are not knowledgeable enough to consent (Hill 83). They are basically required to provide guidance and advice basing on their medical experience but not impose the treatment to them. Even though some of the medics may be faced with a dilemma where the patient is insisting on a treatment that they are sure will not be appropriate to them, they will have no alternative but to give it. They are allowed to give them warnings but not to use any coercive measures to convince them otherwise.

Works Cited

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Devlin, Richard & Pothier, Francis. Critical disability theory: essays in philosophy, politics, policy, and law. Canada: UBC Press, 2006.

Epstein Richard. Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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Gilbert Dan and Maher Peter. Provincial offences: Essential tools for law enforcement (Edmonton: Montgomery Publication, 2008).

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Hayek Friedrich. Law, Legislation and Liberty: The Political Order of a Free People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Hill Klein and Little Davey. View of reality (Toronto: Chipmunk publishing limited, 2007).

Lewis Penney. Assisted dying and legal change (Michigan: Oxford University Press, 2007).

McColl Mary. Disability and social policy in Canada (Cornell: Cornell University Publications, 2006).

Sworden Philip. An introduction to Canadian law (Canada: Edmonton: Montgomery Publication, 2006).

Vago Steven & Nelson Adie. Law and Society. Canada: Pearson Education Canada, 2010

Vayda Elaine and Satterfield Mary. Law for social workers: a Canadian guide (Cornel: Carswell publication, 1997).

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BusinessEssay. "Starson Verses Swayze: The Dilemmas That the Doctors Are Faced With When Handling Patients." March 15, 2022.