Doctor offers to treat dying Winnipeg man after colleagues refuse


A doctor in Winnipeg has agreed to treat a dying 84-year-old man amid a legal and medical row between his family and physicians who say keeping him alive is unethical, a published report said Wednesday.

Three doctors at the city's Grace Hospital have refused to continue providing care to the elderly patient, Samuel Golubchuk, who they say has no brain function and should not be kept physically alive on a ventilator.

But another, unnamed doctor has come forward and agreed to be Golubchuk's physician of record, according to a report in the Winnipeg Sun that quotes a spokeswoman for the city's regional health authority.

That will enable routine care to be provided to Golubchuk and his life support to be maintained, medical officials said.

Golubchuk and his family are Orthodox Jews who believe it is immoral to hasten death.

"When a person is born, it's written down when they're gonna die," Golubchuk's daughter, Miriam Geller, told CBC news. "So it's God that decides this, not the doctors."

Last month, in a letter to the Winnipeg health authority, Golubchuk's original attending physician, Anand Kumar, said he would no longer work in Grace Hospital's critical care unit because it meant providing medical services to his former patient that were "grotesque."

Golubchuk had developed bedsores, Anand wrote, and doctors were having to trim infected flesh from his body to prevent infections from spreading.

"To inflict this kind of assault on him without a reasonable hope of benefit is an abomination," Anand's letter said. "I can't do it."

Do no harm: ethicist

Anand advised the family to remove Golubchuk's ventilator and feeding tube, but they went to court instead and obtained a temporary order to continue treatment until the case can be heard fully in September.

Earlier this week, two doctors who had been maintaining Golubchuk's life support treatment also withdrew from the case.

Arthur Shafer, a medical ethicist at the University of Manitoba, said the physicians were correct to follow their conscience once they'd formed a professional opinion on Golubchuk's case.

"They did morally the right thing," Shafer said. "As every first year medical student learns, the basic principal of medical ethics is 'do no harm.' "

But Percy Golubchuk, the elderly patient's son, said it's all about being able to trust that a medical team will provide the care that's needed to preserve life.

A person, he said, "should not be afraid when you go into a hospital that you might not come out because a doctor thinks your life is not worth living."

Golubchuk's father was put on life support late last year when he was being treated in hospital for injuries suffered in a fall.

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