A nurse has been charged in the death of a patient who was removed from life support, allegedly without authorization, at a hospital in the central Ontario community of Penetanguishene last year.
The charges against Joanna Flynn, 50, are related to the death of 39-year-old Deanna Leblanc, a patient at Georgian Bay General Hospital.
The case is "essentially unprecedented in Canada," said Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, adding there are "lots of surprising questions" raised by what allegedly occurred.
Leblanc, a married mother of two teenaged sons had a scope done on her knee on Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, at a hospital in Newmarket, Ont. It was supposed to be a routine out-patient procedure that took about half an hour, according to her husband, Mike Leblanc, but 36 hours later she was dead.
'She was telling me she was dying and begging me to help her.' - Mike Leblanc, wife of woman who died in hospital
He said his wife of 23 years appeared to be fine after she returned home after the scope. But on Sunday morning about 3 a.m. "all hell broke loose." She woke her husband and said she had to go to hospital.
"She was telling me she was dying and begging me to help her," Leblanc said.
He drove her to to Georgian Bay General, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit and placed on life support. She died later that day.
"My biggest concern is why did she end up in that hospital? What went wrong in those 36 hours that she ended up there?" he said.
"I still don't know why I lost my wife and why my kids don't have their mother any more. She was 39 years old and there was nothing wrong with her other than a sore knee. I was told it was a simple operation."
Midland police said they began an investigation on March 6, 2014, and made an arrest on Thursday. Flynn, of Wyevale, Ont., is charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death. She appeared in court on Thursday and has been released on $50,000 bail. She is due back in court on May 28.
"In a small community such as ours, when there is a death we are so tightly knit it does impact folks that live here," said Insp. Ron Wheeldon.
Mike Leblanc described his wife as a "great mother" who had a touching ability to sense when something was wrong with someone else.
"We were best friends and she was a best friend to the kids, too," he said.
The investigation and subsequent charges took him by surprise.
'We want to assure the public that we believe this is a one-off event.' - Georgian Bay General Hospital
"I didn't think there'd be any investigation. I didn't realize anybody had done anything wrong," he told CBC News.
He told the Barrie Examiner he did not suspect foul play until days after his wife's death when he was contacted by Midland police, who told him they had opened an investigation.
Flynn no longer works at Georgian Bay General Hospital and CEO and president Karen McGrath said it was officials at the hospital who alerted police to the circumstances of Leblanc's death.
"We want to assure the public that we believe this is a one-off event ... We actually did some investigation. We actually reported it to the police," McGrath said Friday.
Timing of charges curious, lawyer says
Lawyer Mark Handelman, who often deals with end-of-life cases, was interviewed about the charges against Flynn Friday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning.
"It's very curious to me that it took a year to decide to lay charges, which I think indicates the potential complexity of it," he said.
"I'm curious to know what the police mean when they say life support was discontinued without authorization."
He said life support is recognized as a treatment under the law and withdrawing it requires consent from the patient or a "correct substitute decision-maker."
"I've never seen a case where a nurse would implement the withdrawal of treatment. I've only seen a physician be the person that would remove life support," bioethicist Bowman told CBC News.
According to Bowman, the decision is not usually made by a single person and would usually take weeks of discussion between family and health-care workers.
"I cannot stress enough how decisions are made collectively and not in isolation ... If it was a misunderstanding about consent, there will be lots of questions as to how that could possibly happen."