TORONTO, July 20, 2011 (CCRL) – The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled unanimously June 29 that doctors cannot unilaterally cease treatment over the objections of family members, but rather that it is necessary for them to refer their concerns to the Ontario Consent and Capacity Board, which has the jurisdiction to determine the issue of consent and to address any challenges to that consent made by a doctor.

The case relates to a medical conflict over the fate of Hasan Rasouli, who has been in a coma at Sunnybrook Hospital and whose doctors argued they did not need the family’s consent to withdraw life-sustaining treatment. The family believed such cessation would violate his religious beliefs. Ontario’s appeal court said the family’s wishes could not be overruled by the doctors.  

The three justices writing for the Appeal Court unanimously upheld a Superior Court decision saying that withdrawing life-support constituted medical “treatment” and required the consent of the patient’s family. When the family refuses consent, doctors must appeal to the Ontario Consent and Capacity Board for a decision, said the judges.

The Consent and Capacity Board includes lawyers, psychiatrists, and citizens in Ontario who are appointed by the province to resolve disputes such as in the Rasouli case between doctors and the family. 

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, of which the League is a member, says the case will set a precedent for the resolution of similar conflicts across Canada, upholding the importance of the wishes of the patient and the family. This decision has profound implications for patients in terms of feeling safe and secure in accessing medical services near the end of life, says Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Executive Director Alex Schadenberg, whose organization intervened in the Appeal.

Website of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Let’s continue to reject euthanasia, July 10 National Post letter from League member Rene Leiva, MD.