Potentially Precedent-Setting Withdrawal of Treatment Case to be Heard by Canadian Court Today

By Dave Andrusko

Last month we ran a column about a potentially precedent setting case in Canada with possible implications for the United States in light of the passage of ObamaCare. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) had been granted intervener status in the Rasouli v. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre case that will decide whether doctors must obtain consent before withdrawing life-sustaining medical treatment.

Please read the full background.

 Today I’d like to talk briefly about an account in yesterday’s London Free Press which set the stage for today’s legal action.

The lead sentence was a masterpiece; it cut to the chase and concisely explained how what was at stake was not confined to one man and his family’s battle with a hospital.

Jonathan Sher wrote “Doctors will ask Ontario’s top court Wednesday to remove the only bureaucratic barrier impeding them from pulling the plug on patients over the objections of family — a request that could fundamentally alter cases like that of Baby Joseph.”

Absolutely! Except for one big omission: it’s not just about “pulling plugs.” This decision will apply to all life-sustaining interventions, including the withdrawal of hydration and nutrition.

We’ve written many times about the gravely ill “Baby Joseph” Maraachli. In brief, a Canadian hospital had written him off as in a “persistent vegetative state” and took the family to an administrative board to be authorized to take him off life support.

The family lost, but as the case played itself out the baby was transferred to an American hospital where he was given a tracheotomy—the only thing the family had asked for. Joseph is now at home and, while his lifespan is still very limited, he is doing much better than anyone anticipated.

According to Sher’s account, the case before the Court today deals with

“Hassan Rasouli, a retired mechanical engineer who came to Canada in April from Iran with his wife, a physician, and had gone to hospital to have a benign tumour removed. Rasouli never left the hospital: After the operation. he developed an infection that severely damaged his brain, leaving him in a coma.

Dr. Brian Cuthbertson and Dr. Gordon Rubenfeld believe he’s in a vegetative state and won’t recover; they sought consent to remove Rasouli from a ventilator and feeding tube. Rasouli’s wife and family refused because they disagreed with the diagnosis and argued removing life support would be an affront to their religious beliefs as Shia Muslims.”

The specifics are important, of course, to the one family, but the principle at stake is what potentially threatens all other vulnerable patients. Ordinarily these debates are resolved by a regulatory process heavily weighted in favor of the hospitals.

“But doctors at Sunnybrook instead say they alone should make the call, with the only appeal to families being the courts — a process that an intervenor in the case said would leave most patients to die before their day in court, “ Sher wrote. “’Justice delayed is justice dearly departed,’ lawyer Mark Handelman told The Free Press Tuesday.”

I will bring you to speed tomorrow with what happens in court today.

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