Rasouli Decision in Canada: What does it mean for Health Care Professionals? - Page 2

If that equation is no longer assured, it could be that there will be a reluctance on the part of ICU physicians to admit patients who have small or marginal chances of ICU benefit if the risks are that treatment will have to be maintained long past the ability of the health care system to provide a degree of meaningful return to function—the use of religious standards could potentially endanger the integrity of the health care system; what limits can one then put on any religious belief that demands continued medical treatment no matter what the anticipated clinical outcome—modern medicine can keep organs going for a very long time.

As Schafer points out and something that is not addressed adequately by this current ruling but which is one of the foundational ethical principles on which modern medical practice is built is distributive justice. As he notes, "One person's provision is another person's deprivation." It is not hard to imagine a situation where a clinical situation was like Rasouli when the decision was made to admit him to the ICU. What if he had to been deprived of that admission and chance of recovery because another patient like Rasouli is now and whose family demanded continued treatment despite what many would deem to be futile or at least clinically non-beneficial treatment. One can imagine the implications of a patient dying because of ICU deprivation because of someone whose use of the ICU is outside it designated mandate.

Schafer's final conclusion is, "Cases such as those involving Mr. Rasouli…are comparatively rare. With sympathetic discussion and dialogue, a consensus can usually be reached. But in those cases where agreement is impossible to achieve, physicians are entitled to exercise their professional judgment. If the family disagrees, they can appeal to the courts." That is what happened in this case and the result is now part of the new equation of health care decision making.

The potential consequences remind me of a conversation I had some years ago with an American obstetrician and gynaecologist who said he had given up obstetrics because of the number of legal negligence cases he was handling at any given time. As he indicated, "Not having a perfect baby is always followed by a negligence or malpractice charge and even if at the end I am vindicated, the stress on my life in addition to my enormous malpractice insurance premiums are just much for me. I will just do gynaecology" Even for those who believe that births should be "natural" and promote the greater use of midwives, when things go wrong, it is physicians who provide the salvage. If they no longer will take on that role….it is the public, the potential mother and child who will be the victims.

For those of us who do eldercare and long-term care, what we can do is try to promote advance care planning in a way that assures that people address their future wishes and values and make sure SDMs and proxies will carry out their wishes and they really do understand the implications of their decisions. If one cannot be sure a proxy will indeed carry out the instructions it might be necessary to appoint an impartial person rather than a family member so that the emotional impact of what are often heart-wrenching decisions can be made according to ones' expressed wishes and values.


  1. Handelman M. Consent to Life Support: What the Supreme Court Said in Cuthbertson and Rubenfeld v.Rasouli
  2. Schafer A. Right-to-die ruling: Win for families, loss for common decency. The Globe and Mail, Oct. 18 2013
  3. Youn A. Health care act's glaring omission: liability reform. CNN, October 5, 2012