The family of Samuel Golubchuk, an 84-year-old orthodox Jewish man in Winnipeg, is fighting to save his life. On Nov. 30, Golubchuk’s family was told by doctors at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg that they were going to remove the respirator, fluids and food from him. The family acted by initiating an injunction against the hospital to ensure he would continue to live.
On Dec. 11, Justice Perry Schulman of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench issued a temporary injunction against Grace Hospital, denying it the right to stop Golubchuk’s respirator, fluids and food. Since that time, Golubchuk has shown significant neurological improvements. The family has indicated he has awakened and is not in a coma. Medical staff have written on his chart that he has awakened and they have acknowledged he has improved. Even though Golubchuk’s condition has changed, Grace Hospital continues to insist it has the right to remove “life-support” him.
Samuel Golubchuk’s family are arguing that if doctors stop his respirator, fluids and food, they would be violating his Jewish beliefs and intentionally causing his death. Interimreaders will remember the case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman whose husband received permission from the courts to have her feeding tube removed and whose family attempted to stop her court-ordered dehydration death. The Golubchuk case is somewhat different from the Schiavo case.
Samuel Golubchuk’s family have the legal right to make medical decisions for Samuel and are united in their values and wish to have his respirator, fluids and food continued. Terri Schiavo’s husband wanted her fluids and food removed, but her parents and siblings wanted them continued.
In the Golubchuk case, Grace Hospital wants to withdraw his respirator and withhold fluids and food based on the doctors’ “common law” right to “only provide treatment that the doctor believes is of benefit.” This was a defence similar to that of Dr. Hawryluck in January 2004 in the Hawryluck vs. Scardoni trial in Toronto, in which the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition intervened on behalf of the Scardoni family.
This is also a trial based on what constitutes medical treatment and what constitutes care. Treatment is always optional, whereas care is considered obligatory.
The reality is that if Grace Hospital wins this case, people who respect human life will need to be seriously concerned about receiving necessary care at the end of life. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is very concerned that due to cost-containment concerns, more doctors and hospitals will deny patients medical treatment when a person’s prognosis is poor.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition recognizes that there is a difference between turning off a ventilator and withholding fluids and food. If the doctor turns off the ventilator, Golubchuk may continue to live. The hospital has already been attempting to wean him from the ventilator and he may be able to survive without it. If he died after the ventilator was turned off, his death would be caused by his medical condition and thus, be a natural death.
If Golubchuk is not otherwise dying and fluids are withheld from him, he would only have one outcome: death by dehydration, which is “slow euthanasia.”
This is clearly a case of “futile care” theory gone mad. It appears the hospital is continuing to fight the case based on the possible legal precedents that could be set if the family were to win instead. It is distressing that a hospital would battle a family and threaten the life of a person for the reason of maintaining legal precedent. Most families would have been unwilling or unable to pay the legal expenses.
If you are willing or able to help with the legal expenses, please contact the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition at: 1-877-439-3348 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.