When is a life no longer worth saving?

The story of 30-year-old Sid Gupta, who had one-third of his brain removed after an unexpected stroke, has many Canadians wondering: At what point is a life no longer worth saving? Today's CBC Forum weighed in.

The story of Sid Gupta, 30, who had a third of his brain removed after a stroke, got Canadians thinking

A case such as Sid Gupta's captures all the ethical complexities of an existential debate — namely, at which point a person or their family should have the right to choose whether to preserve life or make an excruciating decision to let go. (Janet Thomson/CBC)

In February 2014, 30-year-old Toronto resident Sidharth (Sid) Gupta had an unexpected stroke.

Within 36 hours, doctors had removed one-third of his brain.

The circumstances of the surgeries have been the cause of much heartache for the Gupta family, but doctors did meet their fundamental aim: to relieve the swelling of Sid's brain and save his life.

Still, the procedures left him catatonic, unresponsive, and, as one of his colleagues put it, "He was completely somebody else."

Two years later, Sid is no more able to state his opinion than he was while lying on the operating table.

A case such as this captures all the ethical complexities of an existential debate — namely, at which point a person or their family should have the right to choose whether to preserve life or make an excruciating decision.

At the point where Sid might have died without the second surgery, he had been incapable of speaking for himself about whether his life was still worth living.

Rather, it had been incumbent on his family to determine whether attempts to save him — "heroic measures" in medical parlance — were preferable to letting him go.

CBC's interactive feature story Saving Sid, published Wednesday, has sparked a wider conversation among Canadians about the ethics of giving patients or their families the option to choose between death and a future of living with a severe disability. 

At what point is a life no longer worth saving?

We asked CBC audience members to weigh in on this question based on Sid's story and their own experiences during today's CBC Forum — a live, hosted discussion about topics of national interest. Below are some of their best and most insightful responses.

(Please note that usernames are not necessarily the names of commenters. Some comments have been altered to correct spelling and to conform to CBC style. Click on the username to see the complete comment in the blog format.)

Some readers applauded Sid's family and doctors for doing everything possible to save his young life

  • "When I see this young man smile and dance seated for the camera, yes, saving his life was the right thing to do. He is a fighter. If Sid did not want to sit, try to write, or try and get better each day don't you think he would've given up and died within long ago? ... he is in there!" - Kimberly McKibbon

  • "Beautiful yet tragic story. I saw lots of love in this family and his life was worth saving in my opinion." - Scoubi Dou

  • "By me, Sid's doctors did the right thing by presenting his family with information and relying on their decision. Unfortunately, Sid was a healthy young man who'd never thought to sit down with his family and discuss his wishes as to the circumstances under which he'd want to be kept alive. We need to be encouraging people to do this as routine matter when they enter adulthood." - Rosie

  • "He may not have the same outward sparkle to his personality, but he is still his father's son. They are both happy to be together, I know it. Don't think of his rehabilitation as 'trying to get him back the way he was', but rather help him be the best he can be. Keep loving him, Mr. Gupta, he is still your son and if he can't express it, he appreciates everything you have done and will do for him.​" - Pedro DaSiva​

  • "Amazing story. i do not judge the family in any way as I have not walked in their shoes. My respect for the Father and his love and care is very high." - Ben

​Others expressed sympathy for Sid and the state he's currently in

  • "Quality of life is so important. I sincerely believe that Sid would have chosen to die, rather than live like this, a burden to his family and trapped in a body that doesn't cooperate. Many doctors feel like 'they lost' if a patient dies." - Pat

  • "A sad story. It's hard to let go of someone you love, but it's selfish to keep him alive when he isn't himself anymore." - Romeo

  • "Sid Gupta story is example of just because we can doesn't mean we should." - Stroke Tattler

A few shared their own experiences in making difficult medical decisions on behalf of loved ones

  • "My little Brother was in a tragic Parachute (neither chute opened) accident last July and he fell 13,500 ft to the ground. His aorta tore in three different places, he suffered a traumatic brain injury (brain bleeding & swelling) and multiple body injuries and was given a 3% chance of survival. Multiple surgeries. He miraculously survived the odds against him... He has memory loss but has his faculties and determination and desire for more progress. He will never be able to be the outgoing business man that he was but he has a positive mental attitude and has and continues to awe the medical profession in his recovery. So my opinion is everybody deserves the chance to be saved as we can not determine the outcome." - Debbie McCarthy
  • "I felt it necessary to sign a DNR which meant only comfort care in the event of life-terminating situations for my wife. She has advanced Alzheimer's disease. Sadly, she is now a human vegetable. Her end is not far away." - Spirit of 1867

Many of our readers also wrote about what they would hope to see their families do, should something similar ever happen to them – underscoring the importance of expressing these wishes before it's too late.

  • "From a purely personal perspective, should I ever be in the state where I can no longer communicate nor care for myself, I would want to go, and I would hope that my loved ones (actually I know that my loved ones agree) would be allowed under the law to choose to end my life. Living in such a state is not living, as far as I'm concerned." – JanM

  • "What an excruciating decision for any family member without knowing what the actual patients wishes are. At the time it always seems like doing anything to save them is what we would all want. He has progressed much further than expected and there are possibilities he may progress even more. Speak to your family members about what you would like! I wish Sid and his family all of the best." - Leslie Howie

  • "My family know that if I am unable to care for myself and communicate my desires, then I do not want any 'heroic' efforts to extend my life. I'm not afraid of dying and I wouldn't want to live as a vegetable. It's important that people be encouraged/expected to have "living wills" stating their wishes at a young age since you never know when it will be needed." - A Senior

You can read the full discussion below, or by clicking here.


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