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Rasouli case has huge implications for end of life care

Today, the Supreme Court of Canada heard oral arguments for the Cuthbertson v.Rasouli case. The case will determine whether physicians are required to obtain consent from a patient or their substitute decision maker before withdrawing life support.

The case is about an Ontario man who became comatose following complications with a relatively minor brain surgery. While his condition has since improved, at the time the legal proceedings began, his physicians determined that he was in a persistent vegetative state, had no hope of recovery and should be withdrawn from life support. His family, including his wife who is a physician, disagreed with the diagnosis and sought a court order to prevent the doctors from removing Mr. Rasouli from life support.

The Ontario courts ruled that doctors must obtain consent, either from the patient or his substitute decision makers, prior to withdrawing medical treatment.

Our friends at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada intervened in the case. Don Hutchinson, General Legal Counsel explains, “Patient wishes must be considered in regard to their medical care. In this case, Mr. Rasouli and his family also hold religious beliefs about life, and believe that life should be respected until all signs of life are gone. The family wants Mr. Rasouli’s beliefs considered.”

EFC Legal Counsel Faye Sonier adds, “This is not a family versus doctor tension. This is about recognizing the right of the patient to decide to accept or reject medical treatment based on a decision made from the perspective of his worldview or framework of reference about life. Physicians are not equipped to consider non-medical factors such as sincerely held religious beliefs and philosophical values of patients.” Read more from the EFC here.

Alex Schadenberg from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) has also pointed out some confusion regarding this case. “Some media reports have misinterpreted the Rasouli case by stating that this case will determine whether or not a family can demand medical treatment that doctors consider to be futile. Patients and families do not have the right to demand medical treatment.

The Rasouli case will determine whether or not doctors have the right withdraw life-sustaining treatment that the doctor considers futile, without the consent of the family or the patient. Based on the definition of medical treatment this decision is not limited to ventilator cases. The Supreme Court of Canada decision will extend to issues related to fluids and food, anti-biotics and other life-sustaining treatments.” Read more from Alex here.

This case is very important. As ARPA’s executive director Mark Penninga explained on the recent ARPA Fall Tour, if doctors are given the unilateral right to withdraw life-sustaining treatment without the consent of the family or the patient, then doctors will become the sole decision makers of what is considered to be an acceptable quality of life. Doctors should not have the right to determine who lives and who dies based on personal and subjective beliefs related to the quality of life of another person.

Pray that the Supreme Court judges heard and will consider and adopt the arguments of our friends at the EFC and the ECP so that life can be protected.

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