From Nov/Dec 2012 Bench Press
An Alberta judge had the daunting task of deciding whether or not to remove a toddler from life support. One of her doctors testified that the child existed in a state between brain death and a persistent coma, and was completely dependent on technology to survive.
Her medical team recommended that life-sustaining treatment be withdrawn. Her parents were charged with aggravated assault, criminal negligence and failing to provide the necessities of life. If the child died, they could be charged with murder. They opposed an application by the Director of Child Welfare for an order determining the medical treatment for the child, stating their religious beliefs.
Justice June Ross decided that she could use the court’s parens patriae (the power of a court to deal with persons under a disability, particularly children) and that this power must be exercised in the best interests of the protected person. She wrote that case law reflects a general understanding in society that “life without awareness and totally supported by machines is not in accord with the best interests of any patient, including a child.” She stated that the parents’ religious beliefs should not be a determining factor of the child’s best interests, noting that she is too young to have ever made her own religious commitment. Justice Ross directed that the child’s doctors follow their recommendation that the child be removed from life-sustaining treatment and provided with palliative care. Shortly after the order was followed, the child died.