In a rare display of disagreement, the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board rejected a decision by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons and provided some Justice for the family of Douglas DeGuerre, who died on September 22, 2008, after doctors at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto unilaterally imposed a do not resuscitate order against the wishes of DeGuerre and his family.
The Appeal and Review Board decided that: “Doctors at a major Toronto hospital violated the law by unilaterally imposing a do-not-resuscitate order on Douglas DeGuerre against his family’s wishes.”
According to the National Post: “DeGuerre died from cardiac arrest at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre as his daughter, Joy Wawrzyniak, frantically tried to convince medical staff to save him, and health workers declined to help the severely ill war veteran.” In a case that dramatizes the debate over who has ultimate power in such cases – doctors or patients’ families — Ms. Wawrzyniak said she had only just learned that the ‘full code’ response to emergencies she had requested on her father’s behalf had been over-ruled by a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order, which meant CPR would not be attempted during cardiac arrest.”
The Post continued: “Ms. Wawrzyniak, a nurse, said Wednesday that Mr. DeGuerre, 88, was struggling to breath when she entered his room the day he died in 2008. ‘My father said to me, “I’m drowning, I’m drowning.” Those were his last words,’ she recalled. ‘I grabbed the oxygen bag, and I tried to help my father while they all stood there and did nothing … I just couldn’t believe it’.”
Ontario’s Medical Regulator had twice rejected Wawrzyniak’s complaint against the doctors at Sunnybrook hospital. The appeal and review board directed the Ontario’s medical regulator to re-open disciplinary proceedings against the Sunnybrook doctors. The appeal and review board stated: “Although the circumstances in this case are exceptional, the misconduct alleged is serious,” the board said in its recent ruling. The importance of this complaint transcends the conduct of the (doctors). It is incumbent on the College to ensure that doctors understand their legal obligations … the public must have confidence that (consent laws) are understood and respected.”
On Oct. 18, 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada decided in the Rasouli case that: “Doctors must obtain consent from patients or substitute decision-makers before withdrawing life-sustaining treatment where such a decision is anticipated to result in the death of the patient. When a disagreement exists between a doctor and a patient or substitute decision maker, the case must be brought to the consent and capacity board for a decision.”
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition intervened in the Rasouli case at the Ontario Court of Appeal and at the Supreme Court of Canada. EPC is concerned about consent to treatment issues since the euthanasia lobby is pushing to define euthanasia as a form of medical treatment, and because physicians should not be given the power, in law, to decide who lives and who dies.
Alex Schadenberg is executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. This article originally appeared on his blog Sept. 4 and is used with permission.