Winnipeg, Canada – A neurologist from Far Rockaway has agreed to testify as a medical expert on behalf of the family of Samuel Golubchuk, an Orthodox Canadian man who is fighting against a health-care system determined to end his life by disconnecting his ventilator.
In an affidavit to the court filed in January, Dr. Leon Zacharowicz found that Mr. Golubchuk, 84, had been described as being “awake and at times interactive,” information which had not been revealed to the judges by the defendants. They had instead described Mr. Golubchuk as “having minimal brain function” and dying.
There are serious ethical and halachic implications resulting from the removal of life support, and the case of Samuel Golubchuk is forcing these issues to the fore.
“If a person’s life is dependent on the removal of a ventilator, the decision to take them off the ventilator would be equal to homicide,” said Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman of Cedarhurst, a leading expert and lecturer in the field of medical ethics.
Dr. Reichman is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and of Philosophy and History of Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Although there is debate amongst modern poskim as to the exact definition of brain death, “Mr. Golubchuk is clearly not brain dead,” Dr. Reichman confirmed in an interview with The Jewish Star. “The overwhelming majority of rabbinic authorities maintain that it would be prohibited to remove the respirator, if that would lead to the individual’s death.”
Golubchuk’s medical situation, in which he is not brain dead and is legally alive, is fairly common. Yet, what is unusual is that the Canadian doctors feel that medical decisions about a patient’s life should be made by physicians and not by the patient’s family. The Canadian doctors are effectively battling Golubchuk’s family to achieve the power to end his life.
“This case could be a real test case,” Dr. Reichman predicted. “It could become a terrible trend if it gets pushed through. It would be a tragedy, definitely for Orthodox Jews, but also for other patients. If it gets passed in Canada, it can succeed in the United States as well.”
ADr. Zacharowicz, who has a practice in Hewlett, is working on the case pro-bono, after being contacted by Agudath Israel of America. Along with a colleague, Dr. Zacharowicz is hoping to travel to Canada over the summer to personally evaluate the patient in preparation for the trial, scheduled for the fall. He has also conferred about the case with Dr. Fred Rosner of Far Rockaway, a world renowned medical ethicist who has authored several books on the subject.