Human Exceptionalism

Golubchuck Futility Case: Can Wanted Life be a “Harm?”

After three doctors resigned rather than maintain–and thus, extend–the life of the catastrophically ill Samuel Golubchuk, an unnamed physician has agreed to provide the wanted care. From the story:

Three doctors at the city’s Grace Hospital have refused to continue providing care to the elderly patient, Samuel Golubchuk, who they say has no brain function and should not be kept physically alive on a ventilator.

But another, unnamed doctor has come forward and agreed to be Golubchuk’s physician of record, according to a report in the Winnipeg Sun that quotes a spokeswoman for the city’s regional health authority. That will enable routine care to be provided to Golubchuk and his life support to be maintained, medical officials said.

Here is the nub of the controversy: Is extending the life of a patient when that is what is wanted a “harm?” Some ethicists say yes:

Arthur Shafer, a medical ethicist at the University of Manitoba, said the physicians were correct to follow their conscience once they’d formed a professional opinion on Golubchuk’s case.”They did morally the right thing,” Shafer said. “As every first year medical student learns, the basic principal of medical ethics is ‘do no harm.'”

But that more than implies that life itself can be a harm–even if it is what the patient wants. That moves dangerously close to the concept of “life unworthy of life.” Very dangerous.