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End-of-life Battles Rage in Canada

Published: 09/12/2012 05:18:13 PM GMT
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CAIRO - Decisions of withholding life-saving treatment for sick patients are sparking heated debates in Canada about the sanctity of life, with doctors blaming the uproar on “cultural misunderstanding”.“A lot of new Canadi (more)

CAIRO - Decisions of withholding life-saving treatment for sick patients are sparking heated debates in Canada about the sanctity of life, with doctors blaming the uproar on “cultural misunderstanding”.

“A lot of new Canadians, particularly, they came to this country because of our medical care, they came because the streets are paved with gold and we can take care of people,” Mark Handelman, a Toronto lawyer who has worked on some of the cases, told The National Post.“And now [doctors] say … ‘We can't help you.' ”

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The issue came to light following a series of recent legal disputes related to the treatment of horribly sick patients.

Most of the battles involve patients from ethnic and religious minorities, who believe in the sanctity of life.

One of these cases would be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada on Monday, December 10.

The case is relate to patient Hassan Rasouli, a recent immigrant from Iran, whose family insisted a Toronto hospital had given up too soon after an infection wreaked havoc on his brain.

But doctors argue that his prognosis was hopeless and proposed removing him from the mechanical ventilator keeping him alive.

“For Shiite Muslims, life is sacred,” Seyed Reza Hosseini Nassab, the ayatollah of a Toronto-area mosque, wrote.

“A person is entitled to be kept alive until all the signs of life are gone.”

Mojgan Rasouli, the patient's daughter, says the case is as much about the hospital's alleged negligence in failing to prevent and aggressively treat her father's brain infection.

“It is about human life,” she said.

“It's not just about immigrants, it's not just about minorities or ethnic groups. It's all about us, Canadians.”

Religious Reasons

But doctors blame for the disputes on cultural misunderstanding, suspicion of racism and religious beliefs.

“The [disagreements] that in my view and my experience are absolutely intractable are the ones that are religiously based,” said Dr. Anand Kumar, a Winnipeg ICU physician.

In Winnipeg, siblings locked in a similar battle over their father's care pointed to orthodox Jewish beliefs.

Another Muslim family in Edmonton went to court to fight a hospital's plan to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from their deathly ill leader, citing Islamic Shari`ah and judicial precedent, to bolster their case.

Surveys conducted by Jill Klessig, a Los Angeles doctor and ethicist, found that both Christian and Shiite Muslims from Iran were much more likely than others to favor keeping hypothetical patients on life support longer.

“There is an overwhelming mind set from the Middle East, and it doesn't seem to matter what religion you are or even what country you're from,” said Dr. Klessig, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“There is still this basic belief system there about the need to prolong life — ‘God gave us ventilators.' ”

Muslims make around 1.9 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the north American country.

In Islam, euthanasia, which involves the act of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, is forbidden as a major sin.

As for the suspension of medical treatment via preventing the patient from his due medication which is, from a medical perspective, thought to be useless, this is permissible and sometimes it is even recommended.Thus, the physician can do this for the sake of the patient's comfort and the relief of his family.

Reproduced with permission from