Winnipeg man at centre of end-of-life controversy dies

An elderly Manitoba patient at the centre of a debate over whether doctors have the right to end a life died of natural causes Tuesday.

An elderly Manitoba patient who was at the centre of a debate over whether doctors have the right to end a life died of natural causes Tuesday.

Samuel Golubchuk, 85, of Winnipeg had been on life-support since last fall. He died around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Grace Hospital.

"We don't know the exact cause, but I think he died a natural death, and that's what he wanted. And he was with competent medical people who wanted to be there and wanted to help him," family lawyer Neil Kravetsky told CBC News Wednesday morning.

"As far as we are concerned, Sam Golubchuk didn't die for nothing. He died for what he believed in, and he died naturally."

Golubchuk's controversial case made national headlines when the elderly man's family, who are Orthodox Jews, took the hospital to court earlier this year and got an injunction forcing doctors to keep him on life-support.

Doctors wanted to remove support systems, including a ventilator and feeding tube, because he showed no chance of improving, but his family argued that would hasten his death, an act that goes against their religious beliefs.

Three doctors chose to resign from their duties at the hospital over the case, with one commenting in a letter that he felt keeping the elderly man alive was "tantamount to torture."

Dr. Anand Kumar, who made the original decision to end life-support, said continuing court-ordered efforts to keep Golubchuk alive were "grotesque" and "immoral," citing newly developed ulcers and other problems.

A trial over the matter had been set to begin in mid-September. Kravetsky said he did not yet know if any aspects of the court case would proceed.

"One of the major issues in this case probably cannot be tried, and that is the issue of the injunction," he said.

"The court is not going to make an order that he be kept on life-support, so it becomes academic. And that really was the most important question, because intrinsic in that question was whose right is it to make that decision."

The portions of the claim that would be viable would include claims for damages, breach of contract, assault and negligent treatment, Kravetsky said.

"That will be up to the family and the defendants, but I am not optimistic," he said.

A funeral is planned for Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 at the Chesed Shel Emes Chapel on Main Street. The service is open to the public, Kravetsky said.

With files from the Canadian Press