Dr. Jocelyn Downie, the Canada Research Chair of Health Law and Policy said at a End-of-Life Ethics & Decision-Making conference at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg today that doctors do not have the legal right to withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment against a patient’s wishes.
Downie stated that there is no legal precedent in Canada that gives doctors the authority to remove a feeding tube or issue do not resuscitate orders against a patient’s wishes.
Downie directly contradicted the statement of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba who assert in their February 1, 2008 policy statement that a physician could unilaterally decide to remove life-sustaining treatment, including fluids and food, in certain circumstances.
The Statement said that even when a patient is likely to regain a level of self-awareness, that the physician could still withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment if the doctor has agreement from at least one other physician. If the family disagrees the doctor must seek agreement with the family, but if agreement cannot be achieved the doctor must give 96 hour notice before removing life-sustaining treatment, including fluids and food.
Downie said that the guidelines need to be revised because they go too far. Doctors can't medically determine whether a life is worth living.
The comments made by Downie may also affect the case of Samuel Golubchuk, an orthodox Jewish man who’s family is seeking to have his life-sustaining treatment continued while Grace Hospital in Winnipeg is seeking to withdraw it.