September 28, 2022

Quebec anaesthetist fighting euthanasia allegations

Police blotter. Here is a case from Quebec which suggests two things. First, that Canada’s medical aid in dying legislation does not mean that doctors are allowed to kill patients willy-nilly. Second, that some doctors take a very utilitarian view of their patients.

This week a court lifted a ban on revealing the name of a retired anaesthetist who is being investigated by the police over a death at Hôpital de la Cité-de-la-Santé de Laval. Dr Isabelle Desormeau had requested confidentiality because publicity could prejudice her case.

The incident in question occurred on October 31, 2019. An 84-year-old man went to the hospital complaining of a stomach ache, which was actually an intestinal obstruction. Emergency surgery was required. Dr Desormeau and the surgeon spoke with the man about the risks. He asked them to “prolong life through limited care”.

The operation began at about 2am. The surgeon discovered that large parts of the small intestine were necrosed. The man’s niece was consulted and told that if they proceeded with the operation, the man would have to wear a colostomy bag and would be in hospital for a long time. It was decided to “conclude the operation and offer palliative treatment”.

Back in the operating room, the surgeon “closed the patient’s abdominal wall”. But then the anaesthetist and the nurses quarrelled. Dr Desormeau allegedly questioned “the usefulness of finding a room for the patient when he could be taken directly to the morgue”. She said that the man had no one to accompany him in palliative care. One of the nurses retorted that the patient had a daughter.

In the end the anaesthetist disconnected him from the ventilator at around 4:45 am. The nurse claims that she protested several times that “this is not the way to do things and that the patient should be returned to the floor to die with dignity”.

The man died at about 5.04 am. The anaesthetist walked out without signing a death certificate, leaving that job to the surgeon.

The investigation continues.

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