Quebec court rules hospital can remove child’s breathing tube against parents’ wishes

The Quebec Court of Appeal ruled January 17 that the Sainte-Justine hospital can remove the breathing tube from a five-year-old child, despite the protests of his parents.

The child, identified as “X,” has been in a coma since he was found at the bottom of his family’s swimming pool last June. Though the hospital believes that the child may actually breathe on his own without the help of the breathing tube, his parents want reassurance that he will be reintubated if that isn’t the case. The hospital is refusing to concede to this request, arguing instead that the boy should receive end-of-life care if that happens.

A court ruled in November that the hospital could remove the breathing tube against the parents’ request, with this latest appeals court decision upholding that initial ruling.

“My clients are obviously disappointed in the court of appeals’ decision,” the family’s lawyer, Patrick Martin-Menard, told CTV News. Martin-Menard noted that the family doesn’t have the financial resources to keep up a court battle. “It’s always much more challenging for a family with limited resources and limited access to medical experts to really be able to build in a short amount of time a file.”

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In its ruling, the three-judge appeal court panel said, “The principle of preserving life at all costs is not absolute when the conditions for maintaining life are unacceptable.”

In the intial November ruling, Judge Bernard Jolin wrote that the parents’ wishes are not in the child’s best interest, as they are based on their hope for a miraculous recovery from God.

“It is true that extubating carries a risk of death for X, but in light of the evidence, this risk arises much more from his condition than the extubating itself,” wrote Jolin.

“Some will appreciate the parents’ unconditional love for their child and their relentless fight to keep him alive. Despite all the empathy it may feel, the court concludes that the parents’ refusal to consent to the plan is not justified and is contrary to X’s best interest,” he added.

The parents, however, believe that the hospital is looking to save money by removing the breathing tube, and they also believe they have seen an improvement in their son.

“Now the family is studying its options as to what comes next,” Martin-Menard said, noting that they will consider whether to adhere to the court’s ruling or bring an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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