Thursday, December 20, 2007

Courts Grapple with Life-Support Removal Applications.

CNN reports that a 29 year old Australian man has died after a Northern Territory Supreme Court judge ruled against his family's request for the continuation of artificial life support.

The court found that continuation of life support for the man, who had been in a coma since a December 5 motor vehicle accident, was futile.

The Canadian Jewish News reports on a similar case, now pending in Winnipeg, Manitoba:

WINNIPEG — The family of an Orthodox Jewish man, 84-year-old Sam Golubchuk, has gone to court to require Winnipeg’s Grace Hospital to continue giving him life-support, including a ventilator and tube feeding in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Sam Golubchuk’s son and daughter, Percy Golubchuk and Miriam Geller retained legal counsel to prevent the hospital from violating their father’s religious beliefs and hastening his death by pulling the plug.

However, the hospital has taken the position that it wants to disconnect Golubchuk’s ventilator and pull his feeding tube because Golubchuck has minimal brain function and there is no hope of recovery.

CTV News also addressed the Golubchuk case:

The court's decision could have a far-reaching impact on Canadians trying to make decisions about their relatives at the end of their lives, said Arthur Shafer, director of the University of Manitoba Ethics Centre.

"Mr. Golubchuk was plugged into life support when they weren't sure whether he would benefit or not -- and once they discovered that he wouldn't benefit, what this family is saying is that if they disconnect him, they're committing murder," Shafer said.

"That means we have thousands of murders every year in Canada done by doctors, which I think is a completely untenable position."

In the majority of cases, Shafer said, decisions are made through dialogue and discussion between family members and physicians. In some cases, hospitals will keep a patient on life support long after it is justified medically to do so, simply to accommodate the family, he said.

But there comes a point, Shafer said, when families must realize that with a shortage of hospital beds, "one person's provision is another person's deprivation."

...There is no word on when the court will hand down its decision.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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