The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently determined that, under both Ontario’s health care consent legislation and common law, physicians do not require consent to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) that they believe to be medically inappropriate.
Physicians in Ontario need to distinguish carefully between a scenario where CPR would be outside the standard of care and should not be offered and a scenario where CPR is within the standard of care but the physician does not feel it is in the patient’s best interests; each scenario demands a different response.
Physicians still have a professional responsibility to communicate (or make reasonable efforts to communicate) honestly and compassionately about the limitations of CPR and the alternatives to aggressive care.
James Downar, Sam D. Shemie, Clay Gillrie, Marie-Chantal Fortin, Amber Appleby, Daniel Z. Buchman, Christen Shoesmith, Aviva Goldberg, Vanessa Gruben, Jehan Lalani, Dirk Ysebaert, Lindsay Wilson and Michael D. Sharpe
Extract Key Points
First-person consent for organ donation after medical assistance in dying (MAiD) or withdrawal of life-sustaining measures (WLSM) should be an option in jurisdictions that allow MAiD or WLSM and donation after circulatory determination of death.
The most important ethical concern — that the decision for MAiD or WLSM is being driven by a desire to donate organs — should be managed by ensuring that any discussion about organ donation takes place only after the decision for MAiD or WLSM is made.
If indications for MAiD change, this guidance for policies and the practice of organ donation after MAiD should be reviewed to ensure that the changes have not created new ethical or practical concerns. . .
Three physicians and a lawyer have written an article published in the May issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The lead author, Dr. James Downar, is co-chair of a euthanasia/assisted suicide advocacy group.
Anticipating a change in the law, the authors warn that “well-rehearsed debates” about sanctity of life and personal autonomy “may become obsolete.”
“We need to start to answer some challenging questions in preparation for the possibility that physician-assisted death will be available in Canada soon,” they write.
Among the questions they pose, one raises two particularly sensitive issues:
Will physicians who are conscientious objectors be obliged to present physician-assisted death as an option to patients and facilitate transfers of patients to other physicians or facilities?
As a matter of law and ethics, physicians are expected to advise patients of all reasonable legal options for treatment so that patients can provide informed consent to it. However, many physicians who are strongly opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide may view the “presentation of an option” for either procedure as inherently abusive of vulnerable patients. This problem does not usually arise with respect to other morally contested procedures, like abortion or contraception.
A requirement to “facilitate transfers” of patients would probably be acceptable if it involved only the kind of cooperation normally involved in the transfer of records when a patient is taken on by a different physician; this is all that is required in Belgium, Oregon and Washington State. However, a demand that objecting physicians refer patients or actively initiate transfers would be resisted by those who would consider such actions to involve unacceptable complicity in killing. The Supreme Court of the Philippines recognized this issue when it struck down a mandatory referral requirement in the country’s Reproductive Health Law as an unconstitutional violation of freedom of conscience.