Canadian life-support case pits religion vs science

Toronto, Canada - Medical science and religion clashed this week over whether to switch off life-support equipment that is keeping an 84-year-old man alive in a Canadian hospital.

In a court case in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which doctors say could set a legal precedent, the family of Samuel Golubchuk argues it would be a sin under their Orthodox Jewish faith for doctors to halt treatment and "hasten death."

Doctors say Golubchuk has only minimal brain function and his chances of recovery are slim. They want to disconnect his ventilator and remove his feeding tube. They also argue he is in pain and that ongoing invasive procedures constitute abuse.

The conflict, a medical ethicist said, is becoming increasingly common as science extends its ability to prolong life.

"Increasingly so -- over the past few years as technology allows us to keep people alive with more complex medical situations for longer -- I think we're seeing more really difficult end-of-life type cases," said Dr. Jeff Blackmer, executive director, office of ethics, for the Canadian Medical Association, which represents 65,000 doctors.

"Our viewpoint is that we want to make sure that clinical decisions are left to physicians and not judges," he added. "These decisions are not made lightly and they're not made in haste, and they're not made with anything except the best interest of that individual patient at heart."

But Golubchuk's family disagrees.

"The family sees it as when there is life there is hope. He is breathing, his brain functions, he holds their hands," Neil Kravetsky, the family's lawyer, told the Canadian Broadcast Corporation.

Lawyers don't know when the ruling could come. Court of Queen's Bench Justice Perry Schulman reserved judgment late on Tuesday after hearing arguments from both sides.

(Editing by Janet Guttsman)