July 25, 2011

An Ontario Court of Appeal ruling affirming a patient's rights in end-of-life care means that people with different values than their physicians needn't worry doctors will withdraw life support without their consent, said Alex Schadenberg.

"Doctors were interpreting their power as being that they could withdraw treatment without consent and that they only required consent to treat," Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said of the June 29 ruling in the case of Hassan Rasouli.

The withdrawal of life support now requires the consent of a substitute decision maker.

If that decision is not satisfactory to the doctor, he or she must go to the provincial Consent and Capacity Board to try to have the decision overturned.

The case was initiated when Rasouli's doctors wanted to take him off life support against the wishes of his family.

The doctors said Rasouli, 60, was in a permanent vegetative state and would never regain consciousness.

However, Rasouli's wife and substitute decision maker, Parichehr Salasel, who was a doctor in Iran, rejected the doctors' prognosis.

Moira McQueen, director of the Toronto-based Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, said the ruling makes it clear "doctors do not have a legal or a moral right to withdraw or commence treatment that's not been consented to."