An intensive-care specialist has resigned from a Winnipeg hospital rather than obey a court order to continue treating an elderly man on life support.
In his resignation letter, Dr. Anand Kumar, who originally made the decision to end life support, said continuing court-ordered efforts to keep Samuel Golubchuk alive are "grotesque" and "immoral."
"Given that I believe that continued support of this patient is tantamount to torture, I cannot ethically follow the mandates of the court order governing his care," Kumar wrote.
His resignation means he will no longer work rotations at the Grace, but will continue to work at other hospitals in the city.
Golubchuk, 84, has been on life support with minimal brain function at the Grace Hospital since last fall. Kumar and other doctors at the hospital wanted to take Golubchuk off life support, but Golubchuk's relatives have argued that would violate his beliefs as an Orthodox Jew.
In February, a judge ordered the hospital to continue treating Golubchuk until a trial can be held, likely this fall.
Hospital asks judge to speed trial
Lawyers for the hospital asked a judge Tuesday to hold the trial as soon as possible, arguing the task of caring for Golubchuk is taking a toll on staff.
"I have been advised … that the nurses caring for Mr. Golubchuk have experienced a great deal of additional stress in providing care that they believe is harmful to the patient's dignity and not in his best interests," Elizabeth Cowden, the hospital's chief medical officer, wrote in an affidavit filed Tuesday.
Golubchuk's health is also worsening, requiring more treatment for newly developed ulcers and other problems.
"We will likely have to continue to surgically hack away at his infected flesh at the bedside in order to keep infection at bay. This is grotesque," wrote Kumar.
Dr. Dan Roberts, director of the medical intensive-care unit at Winnipeg's Health Science Centre, said he is sympathetic with Kumar's decision.
"I think it's very difficult under the circumstances to continue to have to provide care with the only intent to extend the life of a dying patient," he said.
"There's no doubt in my mind, or for any doctor who works in [the intensive- care unit] for a prolonged period of time, that that involves unavoidable suffering on the part of the patient."
Michelle Augert, spokeswoman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said the organization respects Kumar's decision.
"This has been going on for a long time, and I think some of the medical professionals are very concerned that they're not treating this fellow in his best interests," Augert said.
"I think it's become very, very difficult for some of the health professionals to continue to provide care under those circumstances."
Impossible to push date forward: family's lawyer
The Golubchuk family's lawyer, Neil Kravetsky, says if the case is moved up, he won't have time to prepare the case properly.
"It's obviously very disturbing to me because all defence counsel know from meetings we've held before the judge and chambers that there was no way that I can handle this file if it comes further up," he told CBC News on Wednesday.
"I have other trials, I have personal commitments, I have other things that I have to deal with, and the witnesses haven't even been secured 100 per cent. There are witnesses that I am in the process of securing, and to get professional witnesses from out of the country to agree to a date that's expedited would be very, very difficult."
Kravetsky said the hospital's position is contradictory.
"They suck and blow at the same time," Kravetsky said outside court on Tuesday.
"Their position is that he's suffering no damages because he's not cognizant, and yet … they describe torture which reflects a person having been tortured intentionally or suffering severe pain, so which is it?"
Kravetsky also argues the defendants have failed to provide enough medical evidence to show that Golubchuk cannot recover from his current state, which requires the aid of a ventilator and feeding tube.
Kravetsky has already produced statements from two U.S. doctors who suggested there is no evidence that Golubchuk is brain dead.
A Court of Queen's Bench judge is expected to rule by next week whether to expedite the trial.