Listen to the Health Care Consent Act.
This week on Hull on Estates, Megan Connolly and Sean Graham review the Golubchuk case out of Manitoba and discuss the Health Care Consent Act of Ontario.
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The Golubchuk Case and the Health Care Consent Act - Hull on Estates Podcast #123
Posted on August 12th, 2008 by Hull & Hull LLP
Megan Connolly: Hello and welcome to Hull on Estates. You’re listening to Episode #123 on Tuesday, August 12th, 2008.
Welcome to Hull on Estates, a series of podcasts for the Canadian legal community dealing with issues and insights surrounding estate planning in Canada. Hosted by the lawyers of Hull & Hull, the podcast will touch on some key considerations when planning estates and Wills. Now, here are today’s hosts.
Megan Connolly: Hi and welcome to another episode of Hull on Estates. I’m Megan Connolly.
Sean Graham: And I’m Sean Graham.
Megan Connolly: If you want to be heard on Hull on Estates, you can participate in our discussion by leaving a comment. Give us a call at 206-350-6636. The number is in the show notes along with our e-mail address which is email@example.com or you can visit our blog at estatelaw.hullandhull.com.
Sean Graham: Hi Megan, how are you?
Megan Connolly: I’m fine, how are you?
Sean Graham: Pretty good thanks. Well we thought we’d start off today by speaking about the Golubchuk case out of Manitoba and then segway into discussion of the Health Care Consent Act of Ontario which would have applied in the Golubchuk case had it been an Ontario case, but of course, it was Manitoba. So maybe Megan, if you can just sketch out the Golubchuk case it might be helpful.
Megan Connolly: Sure. The case arose at the end of 2007 in November, where an elderly man was admitted to the hospital and was severely ill. At the time he was admitted he couldn’t breathe on his own, he was on a ventilator, there was a tube down his throat, his brain was functioning but not very well; he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t speak and as a result of a cardiac condition, his heart wouldn’t beat properly.
Sean Graham: And it seems that the doctors, or some of the doctors at least, seem to have been pretty sure that Mr. Golubchuk was not going to recover and that continued life support measures, or extraordinary measures, whatever term you want to use, were not benefitting him and it seems as though the doctors, most of them at least, were of the view that life support should be discontinued. On the other side, it looks as though some of Mr. Golubchuk’s children felt differently and wanted to prolong his life.
Megan Connolly: Right. So what the doctors wanted to do, as you said, was remove the patient from the ventilator which isn’t an unusual thing to do when doctors have decided the person is not going to get better and, of course, when the family agrees. Now in this case, the elderly man’s children said first of all, that the removal of the ventilator or the withdrawal of the life support would require the consent of the children, that the removal of the ventilator or life support by the doctors would constitute assault and would constitute battery, in that it would, at a minimum, hasten the elderly man’s death. Another issue that was raised was the fact that the withdrawal of the life support would seem to contravene the man’s religious beliefs. He was an Orthodox Jew, and the analogy they used was imposing blood transfusion on a Jehovah’s Witness. I guess the religious belief for Jehovah’s Witnesses would preclude the use of a blood transfusion.
Sean Graham: So I understand that it looks as though the hospital was of the view that the family did not understand adequately at least, the seriousness of Mr. Golubchuk’s condition, that the conclusions reached by the doctors were acceptable and conformed to the standards the doctors felt themselves needed to apply, that the withdrawal of the medical treatment could well be in Mr. Golubchuk’s best interest, even if it meant that he would succumb to his illnesses, and that the decision to withdraw medical treatment is that of the physician and not that of the patient or the Courts. And so it was quite an argument that was set up in this case between the family and the medical professionals.
Megan Connolly: Now, in November 2007, the family won a Court injunction preventing the doctors from withdrawing life support and a few weeks later the Court ordered that the matter be set down for trial. Now, while this took a toll on the family, it also took its toll on some of the doctors at the hospital. A number of them resigned, saying that their personal conscience and their professional ethics prevented them from continuing to provide medical interventions that, in their mind, would harm a patient without any prospect for future benefit.
Sean Graham: Even though the matter was set down for trial, it never made it to trial because Mr Golubchuk died. And so the delays we often encounter in the trial system in this case really meant that there was a tremendous amount of controversy and difficulty and stress, and in fact that the system did not end up giving the parties the chance to argue the matter and find out what the Court would have believed at the end of legal arguments.
Megan Connolly: Now the family had originally brought a law suit against the hospital, although last week I saw an article saying that they’d since abandoned the law suit. So I guess with respect to this matter, nothing further is going to happen in the Court system.
Sean Graham: Yeah, it looks that way. And I think it’s helpful to turn to the Act in force in Ontario that would cover some of these issues, and that’s called the Health Care Consent Act. And Section 10 of the Health Care Consent Act talks about needing consent before treating a patient.
Megan Connolly: And what that Act says, is that when a doctor, or I guess a health care practitioner, proposes treatment for someone, they can’t administer their treatment unless the person consents to it.
Sean Graham: Now the question, of course, is what’s consent?
Megan Connolly: Um hm.
Sean Graham: And so the Act helps us out there also by stating out the elements of the consent, and there’s four elements. I’ll just go through them. The first is that the consent must relate to the treatment, so that’s fairly self-explanatory. The second is that the consent must be informed so the patient must have some understanding of exactly what they’re getting into. Third, and this is kind of obvious I think, but it’s there anyway, the consent must be given voluntarily. And then finally, which is also obvious, the consent must not be obtained through misrepresentation or fraud.
Megan Connolly: And this goes into, I guess, the next aspect of consent, which means it has to be informed consent. Now the issue of informed consent has given rise to enough litigation although it’s probably the purview for today, but I guess, basically put, the patient needs to be provided with sufficient information about the treatment so that they can, in a knowledgeable and informed way, consent to it.
Sean Graham: And the statute goes into a little bit more of a definition stating that the consent is only informed if, before giving it, the person consenting received the following information, and there’s a list in subsection 11(3) of the Health Care Consent Act. There’s six items. The first is that the person needs to know sufficient information about the nature of the treatment; (2) is the expected benefits of the treatment; (3) the material risks of the treatment; (4) the material side effects of the treatment; (5) alternative courses of action; and then (6) the likely consequences of not having the treatment.
Now in Mr. Golubchuk’s case, I’m not sure that would have ever been possible for Mr. Golubchuk. It’s not clear to me whether he had any chance really, before he was in the position that led to this case, whether he had any chance to obtain treatment. But certainly by the time this case came to the forefront, he did not have capacity and so a different section of the Act, which is entitled “Consent on Incapable Person’s Behalf” would have applied, and maybe you can just take us through that, Megan.
Megan Connolly: Right, so as you said, I mean it’s great for someone to consent, but it’s not unusual for someone to just not be able to consent, and in this case I think the man was in a coma and couldn’t speak and didn’t really understand what was going on around him. So you can’t have informed consent, but obviously it doesn’t make sense to say, well we’re just not going to treat someone if they can’t consent. So when somebody is incapable of consenting to treatment, and that doesn’t mean they won’t consent to it because they don’t want to but they’re mentally or physically incapable of providing that consent, the Act provides for a list of people who can give or refuse consent on the person’s behalf. There are eight different people, starting with the person’s guardian of the person or their attorney for personal care, if they have one. They don’t always have one. The next person to be able to give consent is somebody who has been appointed as the incapable person’s representative by the Consent and Capacity Board. After that it would be the incapable person’s spouse or partner. Next it would be the children or parents of the incapable person.
Sean Graham: And if there is the Children’s Aid Society or it’s a situation where the Children’s Aid Society has lawful authority to give that consent, they can stand in the place of the parent. And it’s noteworthy that this paragraph does not include a parent who has only a right of access. So this could have family law ramifications as well if spouses are in the course of or have completed matrimonial litigation.
Megan Connolly: So the parent who only does have a right of access may have the right to give the consent to treatment on the person’s behalf but not if there’s a parent who, I guess, has custodial rights. And after that it’s a brother or sister, then any other relative. Now like I said, this is a rank order, so number one is the person’s guardian of the person and then you go down the list if no one else can provide consent.
Sean Graham: Now one aspect I found that was interesting in this is that the meaning of spouse is defined, and it makes a certain amount of sense because it needs to be clear that a spouse making this choice has to be a spouse under an ongoing relationship. Subsection 8 of Section 20 states that “two people are not spouses for the purposes of this section if they are living separate and apart as a result of the breakdown of their relationship”. I think it’s pretty clear why that section is in there.
Megan Connolly: Now when it comes to giving or refusing consent, the person just can’t do it arbitrarily. There are certain principles that they have to take into consideration when making a decision.
Sean Graham: Now that’s someone appointed under this section.
Megan Connolly: Yeah.
Sean Graham: An individual deciding on their own, my understanding is as long as they are capable, they in fact, could be arbitrary.
Megan Connolly: Right.
Sean Graham: But, a substitute decision-maker is a different kettle of fish.
Megan Connolly: So the first thing they have to take into account is whether they are aware of any wish the person has made previously that would deal with situations where consent had to be given. So when capable, had they always been clear that if they were incredibly ill and weren’t going to recover, maybe they’ve stated while capable that they’d want support withdrawn. Alternatively, maybe they’ve said the opposite.
Sean Graham: There’s a list in Section 21 of the Act that sets out the factors to go into this. I think that, for the purpose of wrapping up, I think that maybe one of the best principles to come out of this is to be very careful in choosing an attorney for personal care because that is really the only way that someone can exercise any kind of control in planning for a situation where someone else is going to have to make the decision for them. I guess you can tell your family members but you’re not really sure who’s going to be around and who’s going to be making that decision. So it seems to me the best way to try to have some control over these types of decisions is to appoint an attorney for personal care to make them on your behalf and then have a long heart-to-heart with that person, maybe more than one, as the years go on, in order that they will have some background in order to help them make that decision.
Megan Connolly: Right. So thank you very much. It’s been nice talking to you, as always, Sean.
Sean Graham: Yeah, thanks a lot, Megan. It was certainly a pleasure and I look forward to podcasting with you again soon.
Megan Connolly: Well I think that brings us to the end of this week’s discussion. Thank you for listening and thanks for joining me today. And we look forward to hearing from our listeners, so you can send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or just pick up the phone and leave us a message on our comment line at 206-350-6636. Be sure to visit our blog at estatelaw.hullandhull and the and is a-n-d not ampersand .com where you’ll find even more information and discussion on today’s practice of estates law. We hope you enjoyed the show. I’m Megan Connolly.
Sean Graham: And I’m Sean Graham, until next week, so long.
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