'Thumbs-up' from man on life-support revives family's hope

The lawyer of a family fighting to keep a man on life-support says a new diagnosis vindicates what they've been saying all along, that Hassan Rasouli is conscious and aware.

Doctors recommended withdrawing life-support from man in 'vegetative state'

After a new diagnosis, the Rasouli family has put forth an application to the Supreme Court of Canada to quash a doctors' appeal that seeks to withdraw life-support from 60-year-old Hassan Rasouli. The Rasouli family, from left to right: son Mehran Rasouli, daughter Mojgan Rasouli, Hassan Rasouli and Parichehr Salasel.

The lawyer of a family fighting to keep a man on life-support says a new diagnosis vindicates what they've been saying all along, that Hassan Rasouli is conscious and aware.

The Rasouli family believes that a "thumbs-up" gesture Hassan made from his Toronto hospital bed proves he is conscious.

"The family has said all along that they felt that Hassan Rasouli was communicating with them, that he was conscious, that to some extent he understood what they were saying and was responsive," Rasouli family lawyer Gary Hodder told CBC News.

The 60-year-old retired engineer has been at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital since October 2010, after developing bacterial meningitis following brain surgery. Doctors had said Rasouli was in a "persistent vegetative state."

Doctors have since changed that diagnosis, Hodder said, but have not yet withdrawn their recommendation that Rasouli be taken off his ventilator.

'Minimally conscious state'

"We now have a new diagnosis," Hodder said. "The new diagnosis is that Hassan Rasouli is not in a persistent vegetative state.

"It’s open to debate whether or not his condition has changed or whether or not the new diagnosis is simply a correction of an earlier misdiagnosis … but certainly the physicians have come around to the idea that Hassan Rasouli has some degree of consciousness. They have diagnosed him now as being in a minimally conscious state."

Reports say that Rasouli can "voluntarily control" certain movements, suggesting he is aware and may be trapped in a paralyzed body.

In December 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear the appeal of doctors who wanted to remove Rasouli from life-support because he was in a "permanently vegetative state."

It was an appeal of a lower-court ruling that said physicians must get approval from a provincial medical board before disconnecting Rasouli from a ventilator.

The court gave the final say to the Ontario Consent and Capacity Board.

Doctors, as well as patients, can apply for a consent board decision in the case of a dispute, as was the case with Rasouli’s doctors when they wanted him transferred to the palliative care unit.

The court ruled that his wife, Parichehr Salasel, would have to give consent to end life-sustaining care, which she did not.

Family turns to the Supreme Court of Canada

Following this new diagnosis, Hodder and the family have made an application by motion to the Supreme Court of Canada asking the court to quash the doctors’ appeal.

"Until the doctors say they really still want to withdraw life-support — notwithstanding this new diagnosis — there really is no reason to be in court," Hodder said.

He added that the family holds no animosity to the hospital staff and understands it is a difference in opinion for what is best for Hassan Rasouli.

Sunnybrook Hospital declined CBC News's request for an interview

The next court date is later this month in Ottawa at the Supreme Court of Canada, where Hodder will make the motion that seeks to quash the doctors' appeal.

With files from the CBC's Nil Koksal