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At funeral of Sam Golubchuk
photo by Rhonda spivak

Neil Kravetasky, counsel for the Golubchuk family

Miriam Geller and Percy Golubchuk, Sam Golubchuk's children.
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Neil Kravestky and Arthur Schafer will debate how to draw the line between prolonging life and death at Etz Chaim on March 8-Read articles from Ha'aretz about the case

By Rhonda Spivak, February 16, 2011

The case of Sam Golubchuck and the issues surrounding the right to continue or withdraw life support made international headlines in 2008.

I reported on this for a the Israeli daily Ha’aretz [English edition], as well as other  Canadian Jewish publications[the articles in Ha’aretz are reprinted below].

A debate about the issues involved in this complex case will take place as part of Etz Chaim Synagogue’s Adult Education Program between lawyer Neil Kravetsky, who acted for the Golubchuck family and Arthur Schafer, director of the  Centre of Professional and Applied Ethics.

The debate will be moderated by Jack London, senior partner at Pitblado LLP and former dean of the Faculty of law at the University of Manitoba. It will examine not only where the line should be drawn between prolonging life and death, but also who should decide, and what role, if any, should religion play.Admission is $10.00

It is interesting to note that in the case of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ,the State of Israel put Sharon on life support and has not withdrawn it such that he has been alive in a coma for just over five years.

Below are the two articles published in Ha’aretz, that exposed the Golubchuk case to the wider Jewish world


By Rhonda Spivak, published in H’aretz, 11.01.08

WINNIPEG, Canada - The family of an 84-year-old Orthodox Jew who is on life support says he is alert and improving after hospital doctors unsuccessfully tried to pull the plug on him over a month ago, against the family's wishes. The family of Sam Golubchuk went to court to require his hospital to continue giving him life support, including a ventilator and feeding tube, in accordance with the family's religious beliefs. The hospital has wanted to take him off life support because it says there is no hope for recovery and he has minimal brain function. Golubchuk has been on life support since November 7.

Golubchuk's children, Percy Golubchuk and Miriam Geller, retained legal counsel to prevent Grace Hospital from violating their father's religious beliefs and hastening his death.

"This appears to be the first case in Canada where a hospital has actually fought with a patient to take him off life support," said Neil Kravetsky, the family's lawyer. "Other cases haven't gone this far because the family has given in and the patient has died."

On November 30, Kravetsky was successful in getting an ex parte injunction (without notice to the hospital) on an emergency basis from Justice Perry Schulman that prevented the doctors from removing Golubchuk's life support.

"There is no evidence that Mr. Golubchuk is brain dead, and his heart is functioning independently," said Kravetsky.

After a Dec. 11 hearing, Dr. Bojan Paunovic, the director of the hospital's intensive care unit, submitted an affidavit in response to a question posed by Schulman regarding the method for withdrawing life support.

Kravetsky says that at this hearing, Golubchuk's "entire chart was not presented by the hospital, only some parts of it." He asked for and received the whole chart from the hospital after the hearing.

Kravetsky sent the chart to Dr. Daniel Rosenblatt, a critical care physician in New Jersey, and Dr. Leon Zacharowicz, a pediatric neurologist from New York. Both doctors filed affidavits this week in response to Dr. Paunovic's affidavit. These two affidavits will not be made public until Schulman rules whether they are admissible as evidence, since they were filed after the closing of the hearing of Dec. 11.

Kravetsky says they "ought to be admissible since I didn't have the hospital chart earlier." "There will be a hearing at two o'clock [today] before Schulman, who will decide on the admissibility of the two affidavits."


Schulman's final decision in this precedent-setting case will determine whether it is the patient and his or her family or the doctor who has the final determination over whether to withdraw treatment.

"From a halachic standpoint, what is at issue is at what point a person is considered to be a goses [a person in the final stage of dying]," said Rabbi Avraham Altein, the city's senior Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi who knows the Golubchuk family well. "When a person is a goses, you are not allowed to hasten the process of dying, but you don't have to prolong it.... According to Rabbi Bleich, from Yeshiva University in New York, a person is considered a goses if they cannot possibly live for 72 hours, even by using whatever machines modern medicine has available.

"This means that if Golubchuk were a goses and he wasn't on life support, we would not be required to put him on it. However, even when a person is a goses, if he is already on life support, then it cannot be withdrawn. There is no doctor that has said that if Mr. Golubchuk stays on life support, he won't last 72 hours, so it can't be said he is a goses."

Arthur Shafer, director of University of Manitoba's Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics is of the view that, if the case goes against the hospital, it could have a potentially harmful effect on the practice of medicine.

"If Mr. Golubchuk is in an irreversible vegetative state, then treatment is futile," said Shafer. "He could potentially be in this irreversible state for a very long time. If so, would the Orthodox Jewish community want to see tens or hundreds of thousands of people in Canadi

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.