In a case that could set a precedent for end-of-life decisions, the Calgary Health Region is fighting a courtorder that went against doctors' diagnosis that a comatose patient could not be saved.
"This is a difficult issue for health-care providers all over the world, at least in the western world, and it's one that we're going to have to come to grips with over the next few years," said Jack Davis, the region's president and CEO.
Zongwu Jin, 66, fell into a coma at the Foothills Hospital in September after falling and hitting his head. Doctors felt his brain injury was so traumatic that they issued a "do not resuscitate" (DNR) order with the agreement of the patient's family.
"The doctors were of the view that the condition was hopeless. They argued that taking steps to resuscitate Mr. Jin could potentially cause him considerable harm," said Sabri Shawa, lawyer for the Jin family.
"We talked to him, tried to say goodbye," recalled Jin's niece Linda Cai. "We saw the tears dropping from his eyes."
Jin's family changed their minds, but doctors refused to lift the DNR order.His daughter was worried Jin could die before she could seek independent medical advice so she sought legal intervention.
A Court of Queen's Bench judge called it an extraordinary situation and awarded the family a temporary injunction, which lifted theDNR order.
'Judges would have to be available day and night, around the clock to make the decisions that physicians are making.'
—Juliet Guichon, medical ethicist
At the time, Justice Sheilah Martin acknowledged the law isunclear onwhether the final say in such cases lies with families ordoctors.
The Calgary Health Region is currently appealing the order because it sets the precedent that judges — not doctors — have the final say.
Juliet Guichon, a medical ethicist at the University of Calgary, said the appeal has major implications.
"If the courts were to say, 'Yes, we decide on do-not-resuscitate orders, not physicians,' then we would have to create a whole new structure because judges would have to be available day and night, around the clock to make the decisions that physicians are making."
Jin has since made a remarkable recovery, now able to speak, write and read, even though he is still going through rehabilitation.