Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The case of Desmond & Maria Watson, a victory and a love story

Recently the case of baby Joseph created an incredible amount of media interest. At the same time, similar cases are being heard in Canada, one of which is the case of Desmond Watson.

Toronto Star reporter Robert Cribb reported on March 18 and March 20th on the case of Desmond & Maria Watson.

The case concerning Desmond Watson who has been living at the Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital with failing health for the past 14 months is another case concerning who has the right to decide when to withhold or withdraw end-of-life treatment or care.

Maria Watson, who has been married to Desmond for 69 years, was told by the doctor recently that they were going to remove the ventilator from Desmond. Maria is the legal Power of Attorney for Desmond, refused to consent to the decision of the doctors. At the time, Desmond had pneumonia and was ventilator dependent, but since then his pneumonia has cleared up and he is once again breathing on his own.

The case was sent to the Consent and Capacity board whereby Mark Handelman represented Maria Watson in defense of their desire to continue receiving medical treatment for Desmond, based on his previously expressed beliefs.

What is different about this case is that Maria Watson won the case. As stated in the Toronto Star article the Consent and Capacity board - "ordered doctors at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital to act against their own wishes and provide him with aggressive, life-saving treatment if his health falls into crisis."

What is important about this case is that Desmond Watson had legally appointed his wife Maria to be his Power of Attorney. There was no dispute on that matter. The dispute related to whether the physicians had the right to impose a treatment plan - that consisted of no treatment - on a patient against the wishes and consent of a legally appointed Power of Attorney.

The fact that the Consent and Capacity board sided with Maria Watson is a victory for people, who have significant medical conditions, when their medical condition is unlikely to improve, but who want to receive medical treatment. This case is also important for people who have cognitive disabilities.

This case was also a victory for people who live their life based on a faith perspective. The Toronto Star article on March 20 stated:
"Desmond’s wife and two of his daughters ... insisting the devout Catholic (Desmond) would have wanted to be given every chance at life despite any suffering he may be enduring."

The Toronto Star article quoted Maria Watson as stating:
“I’ve been carrying this thing for so long,” said a jubilant Maria, who plans to celebrate her 70th wedding anniversary with her husband in June. “(Hospital medical staff) gave me hell, lots of sleepless nights, but it’s over. I did it.”

Maria Watson's lawyer, Mark Handelman, stated to the Toronto Star.
“This was a case that basically pitted a person’s values and beliefs against his objective medical condition,” he said. “There’s a substantial obligation to the patient who, at that point, is among the most vulnerable people in our society. How can you be more vulnerable than to be dying and have other people adjudicating your rights?”

The Halton Healthcare Service issued a written statement saying it:
“respects the direction given by the Consent and Capacity Board” and will “continue to work with the patient’s substitute decision-maker for consent to treatment as the need arises.”

It doesn't matter whether you or I would choose to receive medical treatment in Desmond's condition. What matters is whether Desmond would have wanted the treatment withheld or withdrawn? The fact is that Maria clearly explained the beliefs, based pn 69 years of marriage to Desmond, and she defended that he would want treatment to continue and she wanted to fulfill his wishes by continuing to care for Desmond.

As much as this story is a great victory for people wishing to receive medical treatment, the issues are not settled in law. There is currently another case in the courts - the Rasouli case - whereby the doctors for Hassan Rasouli are arguing that it is not necessary for them to receive consent to remove the ventilator from Rasouli because the doctors deem it to be not providing any further benefit. Once again, the problem with these cases is that every case creates new precedents and there are many bad precedent decisions in Canada. The Rasouli case is currently being appealed to the Superior Court.

The article in the Toronto Star concluded by stating:
On Sunday, Maria said medical staff at Oakville Trafalgar told her Desmond could soon be moved out of the intensive care unit after showing steady improvement in recent weeks including a clearing of his pneumonia and removal of his ventilator.

“His face is like it used to be. It’s amazing,” says Maria. “It’s a miracle.”

This case is a great victory and a beautiful love story.

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