Family fights to keep 84-year-old on life support
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, December 17, 2007 10:31AM EST
In what could be a precedent-setting decision, a Winnipeg court will rule on whether an 84-year-old brain-injured man who cannot walk, speak, eat or breathe on his own, can be removed from the machines that are keeping him alive.
Samuel Golubchuk has been in intensive care for four weeks with no sign of improvement, and doctors want to remove him from life-support systems, saying it's only a matter of time before he dies.
His family, however, maintains that doing so would constitute a sin under Golubchuk's Orthodox Jewish beliefs and is equal to assault because it would hasten his death.
"The family knows that there is a very poor prognosis for Mr. Golubchuk, but he's alive now and according to their beliefs, they believe that he should be kept alive as long as his heart is beating and he's functioning and has got brain activity, he's alive," Neil Kravetsky, the lawyer representing the family told Canada AM on Monday.
Golubchuk's family was granted a temporary injunction on Dec. 11 to keep him alive while a judge in Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench considers the decision.
Golubchuk is being treated at Winnipeg's Grace Hospital.
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."
"So we can say to Canadians, yes, all of you can be kept alive forever, but the person you are can't be kept alive, your body can be kept alive. I don't think that's a sensible use of resources and I don't think that the hospitals can accommodate such wishes," Shafer said.
Kravetsky, however, said doctors aren't in a position to determine a person's quality of life and where there is life, there is still the possibility of a recovery.
Golubchuk has been in hospital since Oct. 26. He had a pre-existing brain injury from a fall in 2003, that resulted in the removal of part of his brain.
He was admitted with pneumonia and a heart that was struggling to beat regularly.
Because he had MRSA, an infection that resists antibiotics, he wasn't a good candidate for a pacemaker. He also had poor kidney function.
The hospital says the decision to remove Golubchuk from the ventilator had nothing to do with freeing up resources, but was made strictly on medical grounds.
There is no word on when the court will hand down its decision.