The Ultimate Decision – Who Has the Right to Decide?

January 23, 2008 Hull & Hull LLP Capacity, Guardianship, Power of Attorney Tags: , , , , , 0 Comments

Over the Christmas break, a news story out of Winnipeg captured national headlines. Samuel Golubchuk is 84 years old and on life support in Winnipeg’s Grace Hospital. He apparently suffered a brain-injury from an earlier fall and part of his brain was removed at the time. Tragically, Mr. Golubchuk cannot walk, speak, eat or breathe on his own. His treating physicians say Mr. Golubchuk has no chance of recovery and that his quality of life is negligible. They want the right to remove him from life support. The news stories don’t indicate whether Mr. Golubchuk left a power of attorney or end-of-life instructions.

Mr. Golubchuk’s family has gone to court to resist any attempt by the hospital’s doctors to remove him from life support. Mr. Golubchuk’s family claims that removing life support would violate Mr. Golubchuk’s orthodox Jewish belief and amount to an assault as it would hasten his death.

In early December, the family was granted a temporary court injunction while a local judge considered the case. In January, the family returned to court and presented two opinions from New York doctors. According to the family’s doctors, Mr. Golubchuk was not beyond hope. 

The family has maintained throughout that it is a matter of self-determination and the right to live in a free and democratic society without an outside party making decisions for you. The hospital, on the other hand, maintains that it is up to the treating physician to make a judgment call as to whether or not life support should be removed.

As far as I can tell, the judge hearing the case has still not decided what will happen to Mr. Golubchuk. However, it is clear that the courts struggle with life and death decisions as much as guardians or family members do. There are simply no easy answers. In the end, I think it is difficult to say how any one of us would act or react when confronted with the ultimate decision.

Keep thinking and thanks for reading.


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