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Legality of the Manitoba Guidelines

Posted Sep 22 2008 6:07am

Guidelines issued by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba in February say that the final decision on whether to pull the plug on a patient rests with the doctor. As reported by the Globe & Mail , the University of Manitoba organized a conference yesterday to discuss the merits and shortcomings of the college's new policy.

At the conference, Dr. Jocelyn Downie (Dalhousie Law School) explained that there is "no legal precedent giving doctors the authority to remove a patient's feeding tube or ventilator against their wishes." Dr. Downie, said "judges haven't ruled whether this power lies with doctors." "You are deciding as physicians what lives are worth living and that's a moral judgment, it's not a medical judgment," Dr. Downie said. "It just goes too far and that's dangerous." Dr. Downie told the conference the college should look at other ways of mitigating conflict over end-of-life issues, including requiring doctors to seek a court order if they feel treatment should be withdrawn.

On the other hand, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba maintains that "Manitoba courts have recognized a physician's power to pull the plug without the consent of the patient or their family, based on whether a patient meets the goal of treatment." "At the moment, we believe that is the law," said college registrar Dr. Bill Pope.

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