Canadian Doctor Quits Working at Hospital Rather Than Treat Disabled Patient

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 6, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Canadian Doctor Quits Working at Hospital Rather Than Treat Disabled Patient

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 6
, 2008

Winnipeg, Canada ( — A Canadian doctor has quit his job at a hospital rather than treat a severely disabled patient. Samuel Golubchuck is a terminally ill elderly patient undergoing treatment in a Winnipeg hospital’s ICU and his doctors want to refuse life-sustaining treatment.

Now, the doctor who wanted to impose his values on Golubchuck by forcing him off respirator and feeding tube has resigned rather than continue treatment.

Golubchuck’s family — citing religious reasons because they are Orthodox Jews and saying it is what he wanted — filed a lawsuit and a temporary injunction requiring doctors to not take his life.

Upset with the court’s decision, Dr. Anand Kumar submitted a resignation letter and called the court order "grotesque" and "immoral."

"Given that I believe that continued support of this patient is tantamount to torture, I cannot ethically follow the mandates of the court order governing his care," Kumar wrote, according to CBC News.

Dr. Dan Roberts, director of the medical intensive-care unit at Winnipeg’s Health Science Centre, told the news service he sympathizes with Kumar.

"I think it’s very difficult under the circumstances to continue to have to provide care with the only intent to extend the life of a dying patient," he said.

The response drew guffaws from Wesley Smith, an attorney and author who is a leading bioethics observer.

"Gee, extending the lives of dying patients used to be a primary purpose of medicine — at least when that is what the patient/family wanted," he said.

Smith also said the hospital staff’s claims to the media about Golubchuk’s condition probably don’t represent his true medical status.

"I have been involved either publicly or privately in too many of these kind of cases to accept what the hospital spokespeople say about Mr. Golubchuck’s condition at face value," he said.

"If they are accurate, I would probably make a different decision than this family has. But those are my values," he explained. "When it comes to extending life, I don’t think the patient’s values should be trumped by those of strangers–no matter how well motivated they might be."

"If the doctors/bioethicists prevail in this case, if they can force a man off of life support in pursuit of the institution’s values, it is the end of patient autonomy," Smith concluded.

"Better stated, it would transform patient autonomy into a one-way-street: If you want to die by refusing treatment (or perhaps requesting euthanasia), patient autonomy rules! Otherwise, we reserve the right to refuse service."