Legal Aspects

The Physician’s Obligations under Certain Laws

Under review

As explained previously, physicians practice their profession in a legal environment. Like all other citizens, they are subject to the rules (laws and regulations) society has imposed on itself, and they must practice medicine while respecting certain rights, such as the personal right to integrity  and inviolability, to a private life, and to professional secrecy. Physicians are sometimes permitted, however, to overstep these rights in order to care for and protect the individual or the population.

This overview of the principal pieces of legislation notes the exceptions with respect to fundamental rights that impose specific obligations on physicians.

The Civil Code of Québec defines certain offences against the right to personal integrity and inviolability in the context of care. The provisions of the Act respecting the protection of persons whose mental state presents a danger to themselves or to others specify its general rules. Many legal provisions provide for exceptions with respect to professional secrecy. The Code of ethics of Physicians stipulates that a physician may not divulge facts or confidences which have come to his personal attention, except when the patient authorizes the physician to do so or when the law authorizes or orders the physician to do so, or when there are compelling and just grounds related to the health or safety of the patient or of others . (sec. 20, p. 5). Also, the Youth Protection Act, the Public Health Act,  the Highway Safety Code, and the Act respecting the determination of the causes and circumstances of death, permit physicians, indeed in some cases oblige them, to report their patient’s situation to an administrative authority responsible for the security and protection of certain persons.

Lastly, we will touch on laws that grant  rights and recourse to citizens and impose obligations on physicians to ensure the  exercise of these rights, such as the Automobile Insurance Act, the Act respecting occupational health and safety, and the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases.

The most relevant sections of the legislation cited here, as well as the names of certain forms physicians must complete in discharging their obligations, are listed in the Appendix B.