Thursday, June 30, 2011

UK Decision Overrules Doctors' Request to Remove Life Support

A new decision in the UK courts has over-ridden doctors' recommendation that a "permanent vegetative state patient" be removed from life support. Hassan Rasouli, according to the wishes of his wife, Parichehr Salasel, is currently being kept alive by a ventilator and a feeding tube.

The doctors contend that they need permission to place a patient in palliative care but not to remove life support. The court ruled otherwise.

From the article at Globe & Mail:

“I think it will reopen the debate Canada-wide about how to effectively and efficiently adjudicate end-of-life disputes,” said Mark Handelman, a lawyer for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, an intervenor in the appeal. “...The public at large needs to learn a lesson from this. You have to have discussions about end-of-life care with your loved ones.”

The two doctors, Brian Cuthbertson and Gordon Rubenfeld, had argued that although they required consent to provide palliative care to Mr. Rasouli, they did not need it to withdraw life-sustaining measures that are no longer medically useful. The Ontario Court of Appeal on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that said that they do need consent, and that if they don’t get it, they must refer the case to a tribunal.

Ms. Salasel said she was pleased with the decision, adding: “I have my husband and he is still alive ... He’s getting better, absolutely. He is alive and with medication, with modern medicine, he will be better.”

The dilemma raised in the case is of society’s own making and increasingly an issue with Canada’s aging population: medical technology can now keep the sickest patients biologically alive, even though some doctors feel this does more harm than good. Distraught family members, meanwhile, often do not know their family member’s wishes, or refuse to give up hope, and choose every intervention available to sustain life.

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