By Graeme Hamilton
QUEBEC’S COLLEGE of Physicians has issued an ethics bulletin to its members after learning that some doctors were allowing suicide victims to die when life-saving treatment was available.
The bulletin says the College learned last fall that “in some Quebec hospitals, some people who had attempted to end their lives through poisoning were not resuscitated. An unspecified number of doctors refused to provide the antidote that could have saved a life. The bulletin goes on to spell out a physician’s ethical and legal duty to provide care, even to patients seeking to end their own lives.
“From a moral point of view, this duty to act to save the patient’s life, or to prevent him from living with the effects of a too-late intervention, rests on principles of doing good and not doing harm, as well as of solidarity,” it reads. “It would be negligent not to act.”
It says treatment should be withheld only in cases where a physician has “irrefutable proof” of a patient’s wishes in the form of an advance medical directive or a do-not-resuscitate order.
Once stabilized, a survivor of suicide may require psychiatric treatment, the bulletin says. “Recognition of psychological suffering can allow a person who wants to kill himself to picture his life differently,” it says.
The Quebec Poison Control Centre, which provides emergency advice to physicians treating patients who have ingested poisons or pills, alerted the College to the issue.
Bernard Mathieu, president of the 500-member Association of Quebec Emergency Physicians, said he was surprised to hear some of his colleagues were allowing suicidal patients to die. He made a point of sending the College bulletin to all the association members. “We didn’t want any ambiguity about this necessity to intervene,” he said.
More than 1,000 people die by suicide every year in Quebec while approximately 3,500 suicides take place in Canada annually. TAP
–Excerpt from the National Post