Canadian Man Samuel Golubchuk Dies, Treatment Caused Euthanasia Debate

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 25, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Canadian Man Samuel Golubchuk Dies, Treatment Caused Euthanasia Debate

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 25
, 2008

Winnipeg, Canada ( — The Canadian man who was at the center of a national euthanasia debate has passed away. Samuel Golubchuk, an 84-year-old Jewish man, became the center of attention when his family won a court decision to continue his treatment and doctors at a Winnipeg hospital quit in protest.

Golubchuk was a terminally ill elderly patient who family said subjecting to euthanasia would violate their religious beliefs. But his doctors wanted to refuse life-sustaining treatment.

He suffered from a brain injury he sustained in 2003 but could still understand and communicate. His condition deteriorated after he had a bout of pneumonia and pulmonary hypertension.

Earlier this month, the doctor who wanted to impose his values on Golubchuk by forcing him off respirator and feeding tube resigned rather than continue treatment.

On Monday, doctors Bojan Paunovic and David Easton became the second and third to stop accepting shifts at Grace Hospital’s critical care unit.

Family lawyer Neil Kravetsky told the Canadian Press that the Golubchuk family won their battle with hospital staff who wanted to take his life sooner.

"Mr. Golubchuk won,” Kravetsky said. "He didn’t die because they pulled him off life support. He died when his time had come.”

"No one took him off life support — God did and that’s what they were fighting for,” Kravetsky added.

The Canadian Press said hospital officials summoned Kravetsky and Golubchuk’s family late Tuesday morning to the hospital but indicated he died before they arrived. It reported that funeral services will be held Wednesday afternoon at the Shaarey Zedek synagogue.

The response of doctors to quit their jobs rather than treat a patient 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. Golubchuk’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."

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