Cuthbertson, et al. v. Hassan Rasouli

In October 2010, Hassan Rasouli underwent brain surgery and unfortunately, developed an infection resulting in brain damage and putting him in a coma. He was placed on a mechanical ventilator and is artificially fed and hydrated. After providing him with these life-sustaining measures, Rasouli’s doctors, the Appellants, diagnosed him as being in a Permanent Vegetative State (“PVS”). They argued that he could never recover from PVS and that any further medical treatment was futile. On that basis, Rasouli’s doctors sought to remove him from the mechanical ventilator and to cease feeding and hydrating him through artificial means.

Rasouli’s wife, a doctor licensed in Iran, disputed the diagnosis. She argued that while her husband may have been minimally conscious, he was not in a PVS but rather, was aware of his surroundings and responsive to visitors and his environment. Rasouli’s wife, in her capacity as his substitute decision maker, refused to give consent to have him removed from the mechanical ventilator, which would have caused his death. In addition to the disputed diagnosis, she argued that his religious beliefs prevented her from agreeing to the removal of life-sustaining treatment. The doctors took the position that they did not require her consent to remove life-sustaining measures.

Rasouli’s wife obtained an injunction preventing the doctors from removing him from his ventilator and requiring them to take the matter before the Consent and Capacity Board, the administrative body tasked with resolving disputes between medical practitioners and substitute decision makers. She was successful in obtaining the injunction and having the matter sent to the Consent and Capacity Board. The doctors appealed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, where, again, Mrs. Rasouli was successful. The doctors appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. While at the Supreme Court, the doctors changed their diagnosis. Rather than consider Rasouli as being in a PVS, they now believed him to be in a minimally conscious state. Despite the change in diagnosis, they still argued for the removal of life-sustaining treatment.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada intervened before the Supreme Court in favour of freedom of religion and preserving life. The EFC argued that when interpreting the Health Care Consent Act, which governs the issue of medical consent and disputes in that realm, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its values must be considered. Section 7 of the Charter, which grants each individual the right to life, liberty and security of the person must be read and considered in connection with section 2(a) which protects freedom of religion. A person cannot have freedom of life and liberty if they cannot live their life in accordance with their religious beliefs and if they are not free to practice their faith. People are entitled to make decisions regarding their own life and medical care and medical treatment which are influenced, inspired and in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Click here for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s factum.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision is available here.