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Illinois Federation

For Right to Life

Daily News

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Canadian Doctors Do Not Have the Right to Remove Life-Sustaining Treatment against the Wishes of the Patient


Jocelyn Downie, the Canada Research Chair of Health Law and Policy said at an End-of-Life Ethics & Decision-Making conference at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg yesterday that doctors do not have the legal right to withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment against a patient's wishes.


Downie, who is Canada's foremost player in interpreting health law issues, stated that there is no legal precedent in Canada that gives doctors the authority to remove a feeding tube or issue a do-not-resuscitate order against a patient's wishes.


Downie directly contradicted a notice from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, who asserted 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, the physician could still withdraw life-sustaining medical treatment if the doctor obtains agreement from at least one other physician. The doctor also must seek agreement with the family, but if agreement cannot be achieved, the doctor must give a 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. "I think it's taking too much authority for physicians and I don't think it's legally acceptable or ethical," stated Downie.


The College of Physicians and Surgeons stated in turn that Manitoba courts have recognized a doctor's power to pull the plug on a patient without the consent of the patient or their family. The college's registrar said: "Basically, we disagree with her."


The comments made by Downie may also affect the case of Samuel Golubchuk, an orthodox Jewish man, whose family is seeking to have his life-sustaining treatment continued while Grace Hospital in Winnipeg is seeking to withdraw it.


Jocelyn Downie is also one of Canada's leading proponents of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.


Contact: Alex Schadenberg, President of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition


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The IFRL is the largest grassroots pro-life organization in Illinois. A non-profit organization, that serves as the state coordinating body for local pro-life chapters representing thousands of Illinois citizens working to restore respect for all human life in our society. The IFRL is composed of people of different political persuasions, various faiths and diverse economic, social and ethnic backgrounds. Since 1973 the Illinois Federation for Right to Life has been working to end abortion and restore legal protection to those members of the human family who are threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Diverse though we are, we hold one common belief - that every human being has an inalienable right to life that is precious and must be protected. IFRL is dedicated to restoring the right to life to the unborn, and protection for the disabled and the elderly.   Click here to learn more about the IFRL.