Un­wel­come ques­tion

Mother claims physi­cian-as­sisted death was wrongly of­fered for her daugh­ter

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN ROBERTS SALTWIRE NET­WORK The North­ern Pen

Sheila El­son couldn’t be­lieve what she was hear­ing. A doc­tor was ask­ing her the in­con­ceiv­able: if she wanted her daugh­ter’s life to end.

Sheila El­son couldn’t be­lieve what she was hear­ing. A doc­tor was ask­ing her the in­con­ceiv­able: if she wanted her daugh­ter’s life to end.

“All I was think­ing about in the back of my mind was, I’d be killing my daugh­ter,” re­called the St. An­thony woman.

El­son’s daugh­ter, Candice Lewis, has had a se­ries of ill­nesses since birth, in­clud­ing spina bi­fida, cere­bral palsy and chronic seizure dis­or­der.

She has had 62 surg­eries. She is im­mo­bile and bed­bound, and re­quires 24-hour care, which is split be­tween her mother and respite help.

El­son has spent 25 years car­ing and ad­vo­cat­ing for Lewis, fight­ing to get the ser­vices her daugh­ter needed.

In Septem­ber 2016, she says, Dr. Aaron Her­oux pre­sented her with the op­tion of physi­cian-as­sisted death for Lewis.

The dis­cus­sion hap­pened af­ter Lewis had been ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal, and doc­tors sug­gested she was dy­ing.

El­son de­scribed her con­ver­sa­tion with Her­oux in a Nov. 21 let­ter to Barbara Mol­gaard­blake, Labrador-gren­fell Health’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, south re­gion.

El­son wrote that Her­oux had taken her into the hall­way by Lewis’s hos­pi­tal room to dis­cuss physi­cian-as­sisted death and ad­vise her the op­tion was le­gal in Canada.

She al­leges the doc­tor said he sup­ported physi­cian-as­sisted death for Lewis.

“This left me dumb­founded and I told him it was some­thing I did not want to con­sider,” El­son said.

She con­tends the doc­tor sug­gested she was be­ing self­ish, and she told him that she didn’t be­lieve Lewis was able to fully com­pre­hend what was be­ing sug­gested.

“She can make de­ci­sions like if she’s hun­gry, but when it comes to med­i­cal de­ci­sions, she’s not ca­pa­ble of mak­ing those de­ci­sions,” El­son wrote in her let­ter.

El­son sug­gested the mat­ter should have been dis­cussed in a more pri­vate set­ting.

She says Lewis could hear the con­ver­sa­tion from her room and it was caus­ing emo­tional distress for them both.

“I am still very con­cerned about this. It is al­ways on my mind. I am emo­tion­ally ex­hausted.

I see that it has been also very stress­ful for Candice and one of my main rea­sons for writ­ing this let­ter is that I don’t want any other fam­ily to have to go through this,” El­son wrote.

Labrador-gren­fell Health re­sponded to El­son’s let­ter on June 6.

In the cor­re­spon­dence, Mol­gaard-blake apol­o­gized for the de­lay and ex­pressed re­gret that El­son did not feel her fam­ily was treated with dig­nity and re­spect

dur­ing Lewis’s hos­pi­tal stay.

She added that the doc­tors in­volved did not in­tend any dis­re­spect.

Mol­gaard-blake said El­son was wel­come to dis­cuss any is­sues in per­son, but noted Her­oux is cur­rently not on locum as­sign­ment with Labrador­gren­fell Health and “is not sched­uled to be back in St. An­thony un­til later this fall.”

El­son calls Labrador-gren­fell Health’s re­sponse to her let­ter a joke.

The North­ern Pen re­quested an in­ter­view with Her­oux and a re­sponse from the health au­thor­ity.

It re­ceived a writ­ten state­ment at­trib­uted to CEO Tony Wake­ham.

“Labrador-gren­fell Health is un­able to pub­licly dis­cuss the de­tails of in­di­vid­u­als in its care,” it stated.

“The health au­thor­ity of­fers a range of com­mu­nity sup­ports un­der a pro­vin­cial pro­gram to as­sist clients and their fam­i­lies in ac­cess­ing care and ser­vices so they can main­tain a level of in­de­pen­dence. Ser­vices are pro­vided to in­di­vid­u­als based on an as­sess­ment of their needs.”

The state­ment noted the au­thor­ity is com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing qual­ity health ser­vices in a safe and car­ing en­vi­ron­ment and en­cour­ages all forms of feed­back, concerns and ques­tions.

It pointed to Labrador-gren­fell Health’s com­plaints and com­pli­ments form at www.lghealth.ca.

Dr. Linda Inkpen is regis­trar with the Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons of New­found­land and Labrador.

She couldn’t com­ment on this par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion, but ac­knowl­edged the col­lege fields pa­tient or pub­lic com­plaints about physi­cians.

Inkpen says if a pa­tient or fam­ily mem­ber of the pa­tient — with the pa­tient’s per­mis­sion — feels that a topic such as physi­cian-as­sisted death was wrongly or abruptly brought up, then they should con­sider re­port­ing it.

“We don’t want to re­spond on what might have been said or might not have been said, but we strongly sug­gest that if the pa­tient (or pa­tient’s fam­ily) feels that top­ics or is­sues have been in­ap­pro­pri­ately raised, they re­ally should con­sider re­port­ing that to the col­lege so we can get be­hind what was said, who said what, when and how,” Inkpen said.

“We in­ves­ti­gate these kinds of things to see if there’s a pro­fes­sion­al­ism is­sue here that we should fol­low up on.”

Ac­cord­ing to El­son, their sit­u­a­tion with Labrador-gren­fell Health has only got­ten worse since she sent her let­ter in Novem­ber.

“Things have gone from bad to worse,” she told The North­ern Pen.

She claims Labrador-gren­fell Health won’t send a bus or an am­bu­lance to take Lewis to the hos­pi­tal be­cause she has respite care to help do that.

With home­care un­avail­able 24 hours a day and El­son un­able to lift Lewis by her­self, she said neigh­bours have to help move and trans­port her daugh­ter.

“They told me I have a rep­u­ta­tion be­cause I speak up for my daugh­ter,” El­son said. “She don’t say noth­ing. And I told them, ‘Too bad, I’m her voice and you’re go­ing to hear me.’”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Candice Lewis, 25, with her mother, Sheila El­son. Candice has spina bi­fida, cere­bral palsy and chronic seizure dis­or­der. El­son has taken is­sue with the care her daugh­ter has re­ceived at Charles S. Cur­tis Memo­rial Hos­pi­tal over the past year.

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