Couple Sues Quebec Hospital for Not Dehydrating Disabled Infant Daughter to Death

Tue Mar 17, 2009 - 12:15 pm EST

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

MONTREAL, March 17, 2009 ( - A Quebec couple have launched a $3.5-million lawsuit against Montreal Children’s Hospital for allegedly putting their infant daughter back on artificial food and hydration without their approval.

Marie-Eve Laurendeau gave birth to Phebe Mantha at LaSalle Hospital in November 2007. After a difficult delivery Phebe was transferred to Montreal Children’s Hospital in serious condition and put on life support.

According to the lawsuit Laurendeau and Phebe’s father, Stephane Mantha, were told by doctors that their daughter had little chance for survival and advised them to take her off respiratory support and hydration, to which they agreed.

After withdrawing respiratory support, however, it was found that Phebe could breathe on her own, and the hospital’s ethics committee reversed the parents’ decision to withhold fluids and food from their baby.

The allegations have not yet been substantiated in court.

The couple’s lawyer, Jean-Pierre Ménard, said the hospital’s ethics committee violated Quebec law and that only the court should have the power to overrule the couple’s decision.

"It is totally unacceptable.… Those people have imposed their view of the treatment to the parents," Ménard said at a press conference held by the parents.

"The doctors said that each time she was fed the child suffered and they recommended letting her go and give her palliative care to control any discomfort," he said.

"The parents said it was the worst decision they ever had to make but they could not see what kind of life Phebe would have. They believed if their child could somehow consent, she would have agreed to have her life end."

After two-and-a-half months in hospital, Phebe was alive and neither deaf nor blind, as doctors had predicted she would be. She does, however, still suffer from some significant disabilities, including cerebral palsy, which reportedly require constant care. Hospital officials told the parents they could take their child home, or she would be placed in protective custody. They opted for the former.

Phebe is now almost 18 months old and, according to a CTV report, smiles at her parents. The parents say that Phebe’s mother has had to quit her job to take care of their daughter and they are now living on only one income.

"I would tell them to come to our house for a week and see what it’s like to live with a child like ours," said Mantha. "See the involvement that’s needed—the time and energy in terms of everything involved in our life."

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, congratulated the hospital ethics committee for upholding basic ethics and not dehydrating to death an infant who was not otherwise dying.

"The facts of this case appear fairly clear," he said. "Phebe was born with significant disabilities and the doctors thought that she was better off dead. Since the ethics committee recognized that Phebe was not dying, and because they didn’t believe that she was better off dead, they decided to continue to provide her basic care."

Schadenberg pointed out that to cause a person, who is not otherwise dying, to die by dehydration, is euthanasia, because the omission is intentionally done to cause the death of the person, and the person dies of dehydration and not of an underlying illness.

Schadenberg praised the hospital’s ethics committee, but warned of the consequences should the judge hearing the case uphold the parents’ lawsuit.

"I would like to congratulate the ethics committee for making the correct decision and I think the judge should dismiss the case. If the judge decides that the child was better off dead, the precedent will enforce a situation whereby a physician and/or hospital will be forced to deny basic care, including fluids and food, to children, who are not otherwise dying," Schadenberg said.

He concluded that, "The Judge should consider the fact that a physician and hospital is not obligated to provide medical treatment or care that is deemed to be futile. In the same way a physician and hospital should not be obligated to dehydrate people, who are not otherwise dying, to death."

The hospital has so far refused to comment on the case, due to the fact that the case is currently before the courts.

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