The current approach of leaving the resolution of the confusion and controversy to the courts does not serve anyone well. Family members of dying patients and health care providers find themselves locked in conflict; one side often feeling that they are fighting for their loved one’s wishes and interests and the other side often feeling that they are fighting for the patient’s interests and their own professional integrity. Litigation often seems the only route for conflict resolution and yet it is deeply corrosive of important relationships and distracts the participants from spending time with and caring for the patient. Furthermore, given the physical condition of most patients involved in such cases and given the time required for a case to work its way through the court system (especially for a matter of unsettled law), the results of litigation are often deeply unsatisfying for all involved. . . .
A position on the unilateral issue can therefore only be adopted following a thorough review of the implications across the spectrum of potential applications. Again, since such a review would fall outside the time limits, mandate, and expertise of the Panel, the Panel determined that it would be inappropriate for it to make specific recommendations with respect to how the controversy identified in Chapter Two should be resolved. However, the Panel concluded that action is necessary to prevent a continuation of the cycle of damaging and inconclusive litigation.
In order to eliminate confusion and reduce the conflict and controversy surrounding unilateral withholding and withdrawal of potentially life-sustaining treatment, the Panel recommends the following:
1. Provincial/territorial governments should ensure that their consent legislation and health care professional regulators should ensure that their policies make it clear when, if ever, health care professionals have the legal authority to unilaterally withhold or withdraw potentially life-sustaining treatment.
2. Health care professional educational institutions and regulators should ensure that their trainees and members understand their legal obligations with respect to unilateral withholding or withdrawal of potentially life-sustaining treatment.
3. The provincial/territorial governments should educate the public regarding the legal status of unilateral withholding and withdrawal of potentially life-sustaining treatment so that they can better advocate for themselves and their loved ones and better communicate with health care providers.