Would you call it murder?

SPECIAL UPDATE: The priest has answered my queries by email, and the story is even more horrifying than I had imagined. Readers can find out the latest news by scrolling to the end of my OP.

STOP PRESS: I have just been sent a copy (which I won’t be publishing, for privacy-related reasons) of the complaint filed by the wife. The priest’s story is true. Readers can find out more in the comments section.

People have various opinions about end-of-life decisions. The issues are complex, and reasonable-sounding arguments can be marshaled on both sides. However, few people would deny that a doctor who not only refuses to treat a patient with a life-threatening condition, despite his and his family’s explicit request for treatment, but administers a lethal dose of a drug to the patient, with the intention of hastening the patient’s death, is morally guilty of murder. Recently, I read of a case in Canada which might fit this description, if the account given is accurate. In this case, the account comes from the blog of a Catholic priest, Fr. X, a parish priest in Quebec. Catholic writer and social activist George Weigel, author of a best-selling biography of Pope John Paul II who also happens to be a member of Fr. X’s congregation during the summer months, has written an article in the religious journal First Things which discusses the case (It’s a Culture War, Stupid, August 22, 2017). Here’s an excerpt from Fr. X’s blog entry. I would invite readers to weigh in with their opinions on whether this case is morally equivalent to murder:

Tonight I am preparing to celebrate a funeral for someone (let’s call him ‘H’ to protect his privacy) who, while suffering from cancer, was admitted to hospital with an unrelated problem, a bladder infection. H’s family had him admitted to the hospital earlier in the week under the assumption that the doctors there would treat the infection and then he would be able to return home. To their shock and horror, they discovered that the attending physician had indeed made the decision NOT to treat the infection. When they demanded that he change his course of (in)action, he refused, stating that it would be better if ‘H’ died of this infection now rather than let cancer take its course and kill him later. Despite their demands and pleadings, the doctor would not budge from his decision. In fact, he deliberately hastened ‘H’s end by ordering large amounts of morphine ‘to control pain’ which resulted in him losing consciousness as his lungs filled up with fluid. In less than 24 hrs., ‘H’ was dead.

Again let me make this point abundantly clear: It was the express desire of both the patient and his spouse that the doctor treat the infection. This wish was ignored by a doctor who believed he alone and not his patient possessed the authority to determine whether or not he deserved to live or die.

Fr. X supplies a few personal details about the patient:

Let me tell you a bit about ‘H’. He was 63 years old. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters who are both currently working in universities towards their undergraduate degrees. We are not talking here about someone who was advanced in years and rapidly failing due to the exigencies of old age. We are talking about a man who was undergoing ongoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. We are talking about a man who still held on to hope that perhaps he might defy the odds long enough to see his daughters graduate. Evidently and tragically, in the eyes of the physician tasked with providing the care needed to beat back the infection, that hope was not worth pursuing.

Let us assume that the patient was slowly dying of cancer, and that his cancer treatment would have at best delayed his death. A doctor’s deliberate refusal to treat a man who is slowly dying of one disease, and who has suddenly fallen ill with another disease which will kill him quickly if left untreated, could certainly qualify as murder, if the doctor thereby intends to bring about the death of an innocent human being. But if the doctor’s refusal of treatment is motivated instead by a desire to direct scarce hospital resources (staff, equipment, money etc.) at those patients who are most likely to benefit from medical treatment, then one might sympathize with the doctor’s plight, and it would be inaccurate to describe his/her behavior as murder.

In this case, however, the doctor went further, according to Fr. X’s account. He openly declared that it would be better if the patient died of an infection now, rather than dying of cancer later. In other words, he thought the patient would be better off dead, despite the fact that the patient and his wife vehemently disagreed. (And as far as I can tell, the cost of the treatment, even in the most severe cases, would have been no more than $20,000.) I call that medical arrogance. Even worse, the doctor then proceeded to administer “large amounts of morphine,” which killed the patient within 24 hours. I’ve spoken to nurses about morphine treatments, and believe me, there is a real difference between a dose given to alleviate pain and a massive dose which brings on death quickly. So I have to say that I find it hard to believe that the morphine was administered in order to “control pain,” when I read that the dose was a large one, and that the patient was dead one day later. And for those who are still inclined to doubt, here is what Canadian Virtual Hospice has to say in response to the question, “Does morphine make death come sooner?”:

If a person has never received morphine, the initial doses given are low. They are gradually increased to relieve the person’s level of pain or shortness of breath. After a few days of regular doses, the body adjusts to the morphine…

There is no evidence that opioids such as morphine hasten the dying process when a person receives the right dose to control the symptoms he or she is experiencing…

There’s a difference between natural dying and dying from too much morphine. When someone has received too much morphine, he or she usually can’t be woken up

In the case described above, Fr. X appears to claim that there was a single, massive dose of morphine, and he adds that the patient lost consciousness and died within 24 hours. What’s more, the doctor who administered the drug had previously declared that the patient would be better off dying quickly of an infection than dying slowly of cancer. If the claim is correct, then it may well be the case that the drug was deliberately administered in order to hasten the patient’s death. What should we call that?

I stated at the beginning of my OP that a doctor who not only refuses to treat a patient with a life-threatening condition, despite his and his family’s explicit request for treatment, but administers a lethal dose of a drug to the patient, with the intention of hastening the patient’s death, is morally guilty of murder. I may be wrong in my facts, but I have to say that if Fr. X’s account is correct, that may well have happened here.

But we shouldn’t just blame the doctor for what happened. Canada’s health care system also has a lot to answer for. “Why so?” you ask. George Weigel explains:

Canada’s vulnerability to the culture of death is exacerbated by Canada’s single-payer, i.e. state-funded and state-run, health care system. And the brutal fact is that it’s more “cost-effective” to euthanize patients than to treat secondary conditions that could turn lethal (like H’s infection) or to provide palliative end-of-life care. Last year, when I asked a leading Canadian Catholic opponent of euthanasia why a rich country like the “True North strong and free” couldn’t provide palliative end-of-life care for all those with terminal illnesses, relieving the fear of agonized and protracted dying that’s one incentive for euthanasia, he told me that only 30 percent of Canadians had access to such care. When I asked why the heck that was the case, he replied that, despite assurances from governments both conservative and liberal that they’d address this shameful situation, the financial calculus had always won out—from a utilitarian point of view, euthanizing H and others like him was the sounder public policy.

(Are the bean-counters right here? For the record, I would like to note that a 2014 Fact Sheet on Hospice Palliative Care in Canada put out by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association states that “[d]epending on the estimate, expanding access to quality palliative care would have saved between 40 dollars and 345.5 million dollars between 2003 and 2011 in the province of Ontario,” adding that “[p]rojected savings from 2012 to 2036 range from just under 247 million dollars to just over 2.1 billion dollars, again depending on the estimate scenario.” The same report also claims: “Hospital-based palliative care reduces the cost of end-of-life care by 50% or more, primarily by reducing the number of ICU admissions, diagnostic testing, interventional procedures and overall hospital length of stay.”)

Weigel makes a telling comment in his final two paragraphs:

To reduce a human being to an object whose value is measured by “utility” is to destroy one of the building blocks of the democratic order — the moral truth that the American Declaration of Independence calls the “inalienable” right to “life.”…

When we lose sight of that, we are lost as a human community, and democracy is lost…

Sadly, that is what seems to have happened here. A health care system regulated by utilitarian bean-counters deemed a 63-year-old man’s life not worth saving, and the doctor then administered the man with a massive dose of a drug, after having declared that he would be better off dying sooner, of a quick death, rather than later, of a slow death. 24 hours later, the man was dead. Were the man’s rights violated? If the evidence presented is correct, it would appear that they were.

So I would like to invite my readers to weigh in. Would you call it murder? Why or why not?

I would ask readers on both sides to conduct their debate in a spirit of charity, free from rancor. And above all, I would urge readers to respect the privacy of everyone involved in this sad case – especially the doctor and the patient. When we don’t have all the facts at our disposal, any conclusions we arrive at should be provisional, and whatever our viewpoint may be, we should always acknowledge that we may be mistaken in our judgment of a particular case. And now, over to you.

FEEDBACK FROM READERS (see below for the latest update)

Hi everyone,

I’d like to summarize readers’ feedback on this story.

(1) A number of readers expressed skepticism as to the veracity of the story, on account of the sources: a Catholic priest and a grieving family, which has chosen not to take the case further. Fair enough. There are two sides to any story, and we’ve only heard one side. And as I said in my OP, “When we don’t have all the facts at our disposal, any conclusions we arrive at should be provisional.”

(2) Speaking purely hypothetically, some readers felt that if the facts as presented were accurate, and if the physician acted against the express wish of the patient, then what he did would be morally equivalent to murder. Others felt that criminal negligence and recklessness, a violation of trust and malpractice would be better ways to characterize the alleged act.

(3) Many readers felt strongly that end-of-life decisions should be left up to the patient. I was going to add “and his/her family,” but Alan Fox’s link to the Guardian article about the death of George V should give us all pause. In any case, this is not a post about voluntary euthanasia. The question at issue here is whether legalizing euthanasia paves the way to other practices which violate the patient’s consent. So far, no proof has been submitted that this actually occurs in Canada.

(4) One reader felt that I should have completely anonymized the story, so out of respect for all parties concerned, the name of the priest in my OP has been suppressed.

SPECIAL UPDATE: News from Fr. X.

Last night, I contacted Fr. X by email, and he responded almost immediately. I had three queries.

First, I asked Fr. X why the family had not made an official complaint. Fr. X told me that the family DID complain as soon as they realized what was going on. It turns out that H (the man who later died) was in hospital with a bladder infection for THREE DAYS before the family finally found out that his infection was not being treated. H’s wife then complained to FOUR different doctors, but none of them was prepared to countermand the order of the physician of record. By the time the family tried to move the complaint to a higher level, H had died. The family has now started going through the official routes for lodging a complaint. However, no response has been received to date, other than an acknowledgement of receipt of the complaint.

Second, I asked Fr. X how much morphine had been given to the patient, and on how many occasions. Fr. X replied that he didn’t know the exact size of the dose, but that ANY dose would have been too large, as the patient was wearing an ALERT BRACELET stating that he was ALLERGIC to morphine.

Finally, I asked Fr. X if there was any INDEPENDENT CORROBORATION for his account. He answered that the family could corroborate his account, and that they had been interviewed earlier this week by a reporter from the Catholic Register. Fr. X added that there had recently been a second, very similar case that resulted in the death of another person last Sunday morning. In that case, Fr. X told me, the wife was so frustrated with the hospital and the doctor for their refusal to treat her husband that she went to the police in an attempt to have them intervene. Eventually a courageous nurse decided to ignore the doctor’s standing order, and she wheeled the patient down to the Emergency/ICU, even though she said it might cost her her job, because she couldn’t accept the morality of not treating him. Sadly, it was too late and the patient died about 12 hours later, as his kidneys had already shut down due to sepsis, which had spread through his body from the untreated bladder infection. And what was the doctor’s excuse? He said that the patient (who was in his late eighties) had been a resident in a nursing home for a few years, and that he wouldn’t have a ‘sufficient quality of life’ if he were to return there. Fr. X tells me that this family has also initiated an official complaint.

To all those readers who were skeptical of my account, and who thought that Fr. X was just making stuff up: I hope this answers your questions. The slippery slope of euthanasia is all too real.

192 thoughts on “Would you call it murder?

  1. vjtorley: I’m glad to see you acknowledge that celibacy doesn’t lead to pedophilia; you claim, however, that the priesthood tends to attract people with that depravity, because of the opportunities it affords them to be in contact with children. I

    I don’t think that anyone is suggesting this. For a tiny minority, I suspect that the priesthood (and its required celibacy) attracts some who have an urge for pedophilia who really look to the priesthood as a way to curb those urges. Sadly, the fact that it puts them in contact with children, and the fact that parents tell their kids that they can trust the priest, does more harm than good.

  2. vjtorley: DNA_Jock,

    If the evidence I presented above didn’t convince you that the priest is an innocent man, then I guess nothing will.

    VJT,
    You appear deeply confused. I encourage you to re-read what I wrote.
    The priest whose innocence I was commenting on was Msgr. Borne, who served nine months for his attempt to go down on a teenage boy. In your rush to defend Fr. Moyle, you described Msgr. Borne as the victim of false accusations. You haven’t supplied any evidence re Borne.
    OTOH, neither have you supplied any corroboration re. Fr. Moyle’s tale about “H”. It remains as nonsensical as when you originally offered it up. Well, rather more nonsensical, actually, since you added the “allergic to morphine” detail. If H did not ask for the opioids (and you have ZERO evidence that he did not), then he may have presented with sepsis, severe neutropenia, and cardiorenal syndrome. Antibiotics would not do much good, and the kidney failure would explain the fluid in the lungs, which is not a symptom of morphine allergy, or of morphine over-dose.

    Tom’s line about Fr. Moyle being a pedophile was a set-up, a trap, and you fell into it. His point was that a single source uncorroborated comment on a blog isn’t worth the paper that it isn’t written on. It was OBVIOUSLY tongue-in-cheek, as was my wisecrack about “DD”, who did make the statements I attributed to him to Fr. Moyle, but so effing what?.
    No-one here has seriously suggested that Fr. Moyle is a pedophile. Your knee-jerk reaction is revealing.

    I’m glad to see you acknowledge that celibacy doesn’t lead to pedophilia; you claim, however, that the priesthood tends to attract people with that depravity, because of the opportunities it affords them to be in contact with children. If that explanation were correct, then removing the celibacy requirement for priests would make no difference at all.

    Regarding ephebophilia in priests, you rather obviously missed my point. Removing the celibacy requirement would do little or nothing to deter ephebophiles from attempting to join the priesthood. Rather, removing the celibacy requirement would make the priesthood more appealing to men with normal urges (as I noted when I wrote “This latter fact is the main driver behind the push to get rid of celibacy: recruitment.”)
    And perhaps the RCC could be a little more selective as a result.
    This fact is utterly uncontroversial.

  3. Acartia,

    Actually, I am suggesting that the opportunities to have close contact with pubescent boys is one of the things that attracts ephebophiles to the priesthood.
    They also find the Boy Scouts and coaching youth sports appealing, too.
    The good news is that there are plenty of normo’s who also find the Boy Scouts and coaching youth sports appealing. Celibacy, err, not so much.

  4. DNA_Jock: The good news is that there are plenty of normo’s who also find the Boy Scouts and coaching youth sports appealing.

    What’s a normo, a normal pedophile?

  5. DNA_Jock:
    Acartia,

    Actually, I am suggesting that the opportunities to have close contact with pubescent boys is one of the things that attracts ephebophiles to the priesthood.
    They also find the Boy Scouts and coaching youth sports appealing, too.
    The good news is that there are plenty of normo’s who also find the Boy Scouts and coaching youth sports appealing. Celibacy, err, not so much.

    DNA, actually, I am willing to give those who seek the priesthood for the purpose of curbing their urges the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, I think it is doomed to fail for most of them. What is sad is the fact that the church never saw this. And when they did, rather than address it head on, they covered it up.

    Or, they were so desperate for priests that they were willing to take anyone.

  6. Acartia: Or, they were so desperate for priests that they were willing to take anyone.

    ^^This^^
    The RCC’s culpability resides in its policy of shifting known abusers around from parish to parish; the most charitable explanation is that they needed the numbers.
    Regarding KN’s question as to whether there is any evidence to support the claim that pedophiles are attracted to the priesthood, such evidence would be very hard to come by.

  7. Mung:
    LoL.

    Evolutionary thinking drives story-telling and fantasy of all sorts.

    But for Adam[f] no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs[g] and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib[h] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

  8. Hi everyone,

    I have now had a reply from the second source whom I mentioned above. Just to be clear: his first initial is T. He wouldn’t mind me using his name, but I’d prefer to protect the privacy of the family involved.

    Who is T., anyway? T. – or rather, Dr. T – is Funeral Director’s Assistant and Funeral Celebrant at the town’s only funeral home (as far as I can make out). He’s also the author of a book titled, “Mary for Evangelicals.” Dr. T is an Evangelical Anglican pastor, attached to the town’s only Anglican Church. (Note: He’s not the leader of the congregation.) The town, whose first initial is S., has a population of less than 2,000 people.

    When I contacted T. via email, I repeated what Fr. X had told me in his two emails, and I added:

    Now, I realise that these cases are still developing, and that you are a busy man, and I will understand if you do not wish to comment further, but I was wondering if you could confirm whether the details Fr. X [of course I used his real name here – VJT] has supplied are accurate…

    Once again, if you’d rather not comment any further for legal reasons, I shall respect your decision, but if you could supply any corroborating information, then I’d be most grateful.

    Dr. T was kind enough to reply, and he gave me full permission to use his email. Here it is:

    Hi Vincent:

    I’m not worried about legal ramifications. Your critics are right–I was not a witness. I can only re-assert what I said in the email–the story is fairly well known. You now know far more than I do re. the situation. (I did not know there was a second one, e.g.).

    As to why it’s not going further in the media, it’s simply a non story. If the Dr. actively killed the patient, then that would be news, if only because it meant the practice of euthanasia, which is now legal in Canada, had come to Shawville (our town). If the Dr. withheld treatment b/c the patient was already dying, well, that’s not really a story because it’s not now, nor has it been illegal. My understanding of the situation is H’s that the cancer, while terminal, was still manageable–much the same situation as my father is in now. Hence my comment.

    I am glad to know the family is seeking recourse.

    Feel free to use my comment, as it is true–I and others in our town know of the situation.

    Warmly
    T.

    Given that Dr. T works in the town’s one and only funeral home, he must be closely acquainted with the facts.

    So this is what I think we can safely conclude so far: the patient, H., had cancer, and was slowly dying, but death was not imminent. He could have lived another few months, if he had not suddenly developed a bladder infection. The cost of treating a bladder infection (as I pointed out above in my OP) is not prohibitive: no more than $20,000 or so. The patient and his wife requested treatment for the infection. The doctor refused. None of the other doctors at the hospital was willing to countermand the first doctor’s refusal. The patient died shortly afterwards. (I haven’t said anything about morphine yet. More on that below.)

    According to Dr. T., it is legal for a doctor in Canada to withhold medical treatment from a dying man. However, even if we ignore Fr. X’s assertions about morphine being given to H., I think we can see that whatever the legality of the situation, such an act could (in some circumstances) be morally equivalent to murder. Suppose that H. was choking on a pretzel, while still in the hospital, and suppose a passing nurse, noticing his affliction, shrugged his/her shoulders and said, “It doesn’t matter; he’s dying of cancer anyway. A quick end will be more merciful.” I think we’d all agree that the nurse’s refusal to treat the patient was morally equivalent to killing him.

    Of course the morality of the situation gets murkier when the treatment is expensive, prolonged and/or of doubtful efficacy, but I think most of my readers would agree that refusal to treat a bladder infection in the case described above (where the patient and his wife requested it) would constitute a morally indefensible act of medical neglect, at the very least. It’s also quite scandalous.

    What is crucial, however, is that Dr. T was not able to confirm or disconfirm Fr. X’s claims about morphine being administered to the patient. Judging from his email, he doesn’t appear to think that the doctor actively killed the patient. But if morphine had been deliberately administered to a patient wearing a medical bracelet stating that he was allergic to morphine, as Fr. X claims, that would surely be morally equivalent to active killing – i.e. murder.

    So we need further corroboration about Fr. X’s claims regarding the administration of morphine. I’m going to keep digging, so I’ll let you know what I find.

    There’s one more thing which I find a little strange. In my email to Fr. T, I wrote:

    By the way, was H. 63 years old (as Fr. Moyle stated in his blog) or 65? (Let me add that I have no intention of publicly naming H. or any other deceased person involved.) I’m also a bit puzzled about the second deceased person named by Fr. Moyle, as none of the deaths in your town seem to quite match the details. The only man who died in his late eighties recently died on August 25, not August 20.

    Dr. T didn’t answer my first question, and he didn’t know about the second case described by Fr. X. This puzzles me. I’m going to get in touch with Fr. X again, and do some more digging elsewhere. Stay tuned.

  9. VJT,
    I note that you have edited your post since I started writing my response. As a result, my comment below re boldface no longer applies.

    Given that Dr. T works in the town’s one and only funeral home, he must be closely acquainted with the facts.

    Well, he’s the “Funeral Director’s Assistant, Funeral Celebrant”, so he may be somewhat acquainted with the facts. And his Ph.D. is in theology, so the honorific might mislead the gullible.

    So this is what I think we can safely conclude so far: the patient, H., had cancer, and was slowly dying, but death was not imminent. He could have lived another few months, if he had not suddenly developed a bladder infection.

    Not really something that we can “safely conclude”, but I like your style.

    The cost of treating a bladder infection (as I pointed out above in my OP) is not prohibitive: no more than $20,000 or so. The patient and his wife requested treatment for the infection. The doctor refused. None of the other doctors at the hospital was willing to countermand the first doctor’s refusal. The patient died shortly afterwards. (I haven’t said anything about morphine yet. More on that below.)

    Well, this is Fr Moyle’s uncorroborated version of events, but this stuff could well be true.

    According to Dr. T., it is legal for a doctor in Canada to withhold medical treatment from a dying man. However, even if we ignore Fr. X’s assertions about morphine being given to H., I think we can see that whatever the legality of the situation, such an act could (in some circumstances) be morally equivalent to murder. Suppose that H. was choking on a pretzel, while still in the hospital, and suppose a passing nurse, noticing his affliction, shrugged his/her shoulders and said, “It doesn’t matter; he’s dying of cancer anyway. A quick end will be more merciful.” I think we’d all agree that the nurse’s refusal to treat the patient was morally equivalent to killing him.

    Oooh! More fun hypotheticals! Maybe we can stick with these, and avoid the whole argument over whether any of this actually happened…
    Here’s a hypothetical: “K” (my father) is lying in a hospital bed when he goes into V-fib. A passing nurse, noticing his affliction, grabs the handy-dandy AED (cost of use: replacement pads, an exorbitant 38 dollars). The nurse shrugs his shoulders “Naah. I think not. Let it end now.”
    Would we all agree that the nurse’s refusal to treat the patient was morally equivalent to killing him? [Answer at the end of my post. But let’s note here that VJT is ignoring the ethics debate around omission vs commission]

    Of course the morality of the situation gets murkier when the treatment is expensive, prolonged and/or of doubtful efficacy, but I think most of my readers would agree that refusal to treat a bladder infection in the case described above (where the patient and his wife requested it) would constitute a morally indefensible act of medical neglect, at the very least. It’s also quite scandalous.

    Well, I don’t agree. In the specific case I outlined previously – the patient has sepsis, severe neutropenia, and cardiorenal syndrome — the antibiotics will do little good, and could conceivably hasten the patient’s demise.

    What is crucial, however, is that Dr. T was not able to confirm or disconfirm Fr. X’s claims about morphine being administered to the patient. Judging from his email, he doesn’t appear to think that the doctor actively killed the patient. But if morphine had been deliberately administered to a patient wearing a medical bracelet stating that he was allergic to morphine, as Fr. X claims, that would surely be morally equivalent to active killing – i.e. murder.

    And kinda stupid, too.
    OTOH I am at a loss as to how Fr. T’s inability to confirm or disconfirm a factoid could be “crucial” and worthy of boldface.

    So we need further corroboration about Fr. X’s claims regarding the administration of morphine. I’m going to keep digging, so I’ll let you know what I find.
    There’s one more thing which I find a little strange. In my email to Fr. T, I wrote:
    By the way, was H. 63 years old (as Fr. Moyle stated in his blog) or 65? (Let me add that I have no intention of publicly naming H. or any other deceased person involved.) I’m also a bit puzzled about the second deceased person named by Fr. Moyle, as none of the deaths in your town seem to quite match the details. The only man who died in his late eighties recently died on August 25, not August 20.
    This puzzles me. I’m going to get in touch with Fr. X again, and do some more digging elsewhere. Stay tuned.

    So you have been unable to corroborate something that Fr. Moyle wrote, when common sense indicates that you would expect to be able to find corroboration.
    Welcome to the club.
    And to answer the question:

    Was the nurse’s refusal to treat my father, “K”, morally equivalent to murder?

    Not if there was a DNR in place.

  10. Hi everyone,

    The argument is over. Fr. X has now sent me the smoking gun itself: a signed copy of the complaint (dated July 25) filed by H.’s wife to the Centre integré de santé et de services sociaux de l’Outaouais, plus the reply. The reply was sent back on July 31st, and it indicated that in most cases, complaints are processed within 45 days, so we should hear more about the case by mid-September or thereabouts.

    Fr. X expressly asked me not to publish the document, so I won’t be doing so. I won’t quote directly from it, either. I’ll just mention a few key points.

    (1) It’s signed by the patient’s wife.
    (2) The patient was 65, not 63.
    (3) After being diagnosed with a bladder infection at a clinic, the patient was admitted to S. hospital. On arrival at S. hospital, the patient was wearing a red wrist band stating that he was allergic to dilaudid (an opioid pain medication). The wife was subsequently informed by a nurse that the patient had been administered with dilaudid on two occasions, while the wife was absent. At this point, the patient was no longer lucid.
    (4) The wife then insisted on meeting with the doctor, who informed her that it would be better to let the patient to die in a week to ten days of a bladder infection than to live for a year or more and then die a painful death of bone cancer. (The cancer was also spreading to the liver.) For this reason, the doctor refused to administer antibiotics for the bladder infection to the patient.
    (5) However, the patient (who was presumably lucid for a short interval) and his wife both informed the doctor that the patient’s wish was to survive another year to see his daughters graduate from college and university.
    (6) The administration of dilaudid was stopped, but antibiotics were never administered to the patient. Morphine was then administered to the patient, but at a rate 15 times higher than what he had received at home. On the following day, the patient became more lucid. However, the bladder infection continued to worsen, causing the patient excruciating pain. Once again, the wife requested antibiotics but the request was refused. The patient’s breathing became very labored and he finally died on June 16.

    The wife intends to pursue the complaint through every possible avenue until justice is done.

    End of story.

    I think many readers would agree that if the wife’s description of the case is accurate (as I firmly believe it is), then what we are talking about here is something morally equivalent to murder.

    Regarding the second patient mentioned by Fr. X, I asked him why none of the deaths in the town’s obituaries seemed to quite match the details he had provided. Fr. X gave me the name of the patient (which I won’t be revealing) but said that he didn’t know if an obituary was ever published.

    That’s all I can tell you. And it should be enough to convince the skeptics.

  11. Still a few odd points that inspire doubt. If the patient’s wife is pursuing all avenues of redress, why not go to the police as well? Why not make all this public? Why hasn’t the press been interested? Why do we only know of this at third hand?

  12. vjtorley: Given that Dr. T works in the town’s one and only funeral home, he must be closely acquainted with the facts.

    Dr. Perry is not closely acquainted with the facts. He has heard stories. Unsubstantiated stories. Shawville is a small town in Quebec. Anyone who has lived in a small town is well aware of the tendency for the creation and spreading of rumours. Usually they are based on a kernel of truth but they often get blown way out of proportion.

    The fact that a story is common knowledge does not make the story true. The stories about George Washington cutting down the cherry tree and wearing wooden teeth are both widespread. Sadly, they are complete fabrications.

    vjtorley:So this is what I think we can safely conclude so far: the patient, H., had cancer, and was slowly dying, but death was not imminent. He could have lived another few months, if he had not suddenly developed a bladder infection. The cost of treating a bladder infection (as I pointed out above in my OP) is not prohibitive: no more than $20,000 or so. The patient and his wife requested treatment for the infection. The doctor refused. None of the other doctors at the hospital was willing to countermand the first doctor’s refusal. The patient died shortly afterwards.

    None of this can be concluded. Especially the bolded part. What we can conclude from following the scant information provided is that a 65 year old patient died on June 16 in the Shawville hospital. That is a matter of record. Donations are requested for cancer research so you can assume that he either had cancer or his family was hit by cancer. Everything else is pure unsubstantiated rumour.

    vjtorley:According to Dr. T., it is legal for a doctor in Canada to withhold medical treatment from a dying man.

    Well then Dr. Perry’s understanding is greatly lacking. Yes, there are grounds under which a Dr. can withhold treatment, and they generally involve things like the treatment having a greater risk than not treating; or the patient demanding a treatment that the doctor knows will not be effective (e.g., prescribing antibiotics for a viral infection).

  13. vjtorley,

    Thanks for staying on top of this and for keeping on collecting information. As you can see no one here is interested in sweeping it all under the rug. If the story is real, there’s absolutely no reason why anyone in favor of euthanasia shouldn’t want the doctors be held accountable for their actions.

    That being said, none of this justifies your slippery slope argument IMO. Negligent or murderous doctors or nurses could still ignore the law, however permissive with assisted death, and put down their patients.

  14. vjtorley,

    Father Moyle sure does trust you. He is sending you documents, giving you the names of other patients, but he has entered into a pack with you not to reveal what he tells you. Very interesting. Do you think he will do this with any anonymous bloke who happens to ask him?

  15. vjtorley: The administration of dilaudid was stopped, but antibiotics were never administered to the patient. Morphine was then administered to the patient, but at a rate 15 times higher than what he had received at home. On the following day, the patient became more lucid.

    Fr X: “Despite their demands and pleadings, the doctor would not budge from his decision. In fact, he deliberately hastened ‘H’s end by ordering large amounts of morphine ‘to control pain’ which resulted in him losing consciousness as his lungs filled up with fluid. In less than 24 hrs., ‘H’ was dead.…”

    From the complaint there is no claim that the morphine hastened H’s end in fact he became more lucid after it was administered. Also noted that he was taking morphine for the pain at home. Since morphine requires higher dosages it is questionable how massive the dosage was.

    The inflammatory rhetoric was intended to leave the impression that the doctor had overdosed the patient which turns out to be false. So at least part of the original story was a load of bs

  16. phoodoo:
    vjtorley,

    Father Moyle sure does trust you.He is sending you documents, giving you the names of other patients, but he has entered into a pack with you not to reveal what he tells you.Very interesting.Do you think he will do this with any anonymous bloke who happens to ask him?

    Bad luck for the doctor that he does not have a spokesman to release anonymous details to.

  17. It seems to me, the lesson to be learned here is that there are three people willing to propogate and spread unsupported rumours, Fr. Moyle (a priest), “Dr.” Perry (an Evangelical Anglican pastor) and VJT (a man who believes that a flying priest is a fact). What do they all have in common? Very strong religious beliefs and an opposition to doctor assisted suicides.

    But I agree with a previous comment. If what is claimed to have happened is true, it is s crime and serious doctor misconduct. What does doctor assisted suicide have to do with? Doctor misconduct is not new.

  18. The other thing that jumps out at me with this story is that there are two parties involved who have a strong rule about confidentiality that is protected by law, Fr. Moyle and the doctor. Apparently, only one of them takes this rule seriously.

  19. dazz,

    Thanks for staying on top of this and for keeping on collecting information. As you can see no one here is interested in sweeping it all under the rug. If the story is real, there’s absolutely no reason why anyone in favor of euthanasia shouldn’t want the doctors be held accountable for their actions.

    Thank you very much for your kind words. I realize that some readers were a little skeptical earlier on, but no hard feelings: the allegations must have struck many people as pretty hard to believe, and I can understand the initial reaction of incredulity.

    Re the slippery slope: it is true that doctors can sweep things under the rug even when euthanasia is illegal, but what worries me is that legalizing euthanasia appears to have created a culture in which doctors think they can get away with withholding life-saving and/or pain-killing treatment from people who are slowly dying. That’s a tragedy.

    phoodoo,

    Father Moyle sure does trust you. He is sending you documents, giving you the names of other patients, but he has entered into a pack with you not to reveal what he tells you. Very interesting. Do you think he will do this with any anonymous bloke who happens to ask him?

    No. And it’s “pact,” not “pack.” I do happen to know the names of both patients (and their “significant others,” to use a 1990s term), but I won’t be revealing them. And by the way, if you want people to open up, it’s usually a good idea to tell them about yourself first.

    Acartia,

    What we can conclude from following the scant information provided is that a 65 year old patient died on June 16 in the Shawville hospital. That is a matter of record… Everything else is pure unsubstantiated rumour…

    But I agree with a previous comment. If what is claimed to have happened is true, it is s crime and serious doctor misconduct. What does doctor assisted suicide have to do with? Doctor misconduct is not new…

    The other thing that jumps out at me with this story is that there are two parties involved who have a strong rule about confidentiality that is protected by law, Fr. Moyle and the doctor. Apparently, only one of them takes this rule seriously.

    My, you’re a tough nut to crack. You still think this story might have been made up, despite the fact that I’ve seen the official complaint and summarized its contents?

    Then you say that even if the story is true, it’s not new. You also pillory the priest for breaching confidentiality (an obligation which only applies to information revealed in the confessional). Excuse me, but that wasn’t the story you were singing when I first publicized Fr. X’s story. Here’s what you said:

    “At present, doctor assisted suicide is legal in Canada, and I have not heard of any serious abuses.” (Comment no. 4)

    Have you ever heard the term Urban Myth? The factuality of this story ranks right up there with alien abductions and flying priests.” (Comment no. 29)

    “The fact is that there are absolutely no substantiated records of this actually happening. No formal complaint, media report, nothing. Yet you are willing to accept it as gospel.” (Comment no. 37)

    “As I mentioned, our health care system has huge challenges. But the story that you related is not supported by anything resembling credible evidence. No complaints. No charges. No suspensions. No disciplinary action. Nothing but a priest propagating a rumour. Yet you give full credence to the opinion of a man who’s philosophy is supported by presenting this rumour as fact.” (Comment no. 41)

    “All you have done is relate a completely unsubstantiated story. A story that doesn’t stand up to even the simplest of scrutiny. A story that, conveniently, doesn’t mention a town, hospital, patient or doctor. Supposedly, to protect privacy. Forgive me if I call bullshit on this. If a doctor actually did this, the good priest is complicit in this crime by not mentioning names. Or is it more likely that naming names would land him in court for libel (or is it slander?)?” (Comment no. 47)

    And that’s just from the first page of comments. Notice that in comment no. 47, you criticized the priest for not naming names, and now you’re criticizing him for breaching confidentiality. In fact, Fr. X expressly stated in his latest email to me that he had obtained permission to send it to me for my own private viewing. At the same time, he asked me not to publish it on the Internet – which I haven’t.

    I’m not asking for an apology, Acartia. I’m a big boy. I’ll be happy if you simply admit that you were mistaken. As I said, I can understand your initial skepticism. But the evidence I have presented you should be enough to convince you that the hospital in question has a lot to answer for.

    newton,

    The inflammatory rhetoric was intended to leave the impression that the doctor had overdosed the patient which turns out to be false. So at least part of the original story was a load of bs

    The lesson I’ve drawn from all this is that when people try to summarize a lengthy account, they often leave important stuff out which would shed light on the apparent discrepancies. In Fr. X’s original account of June 17, he wrote that the doctor “deliberately hastened ‘H’s end by ordering large amounts of morphine ‘to control pain’ which resulted in him losing consciousness as his lungs filled up with fluid.” Then, when I pressed him on how much morphine was administered, he wrote back that he didn’t know the exact size of the dose, but that any dose would have been too large, as the patient was wearing an alert bracelet stating that he was allergic to morphine. Finally, the wife’s official complaint reveals that the patient was indeed wearing an alert bracelet, saying that he was allergic to dilaudid (an opioid pain medication). The wife was subsequently informed by a nurse that the patient had been administered with dilaudid on two occasions, while the wife was absent. She doesn’t say who it was administered by. She goes on to add that after the administration of dilaudid was stopped, morphine was then administered to the patient, but at a rate 15 times higher than what he had received at home. Although her account does not state who administered the morphine, I think this raises a couple of red flags, don’t you?

  20. vjtorley: My, you’re a tough nut to crack. You still think this story might have been made up, despite the fact that I’ve seen the official complaint and summarized its contents?

    I have never denied that the story may be true. What I am raising red flags about is the fact that we actually know very little about the facts other than what Fr. Moyle has related. The complaint that you have seen, and I am not doubting you about this, only confirms that Fr. Moyle heard about it from someone else and that it wasn’t completely fabricated. But it still remains an unsubstantiated story told by the widow.

    vjtorley: You also pillory the priest for breaching confidentiality (an obligation which only applies to information revealed in the confessional)

    Are you trying to be funny here? Are you suggesting that there are no church rules and ethics about a priest blabbing any stories told to him if they are outside the confessional? Priests are provided information by parishoners with an expectation of confidentiality all of the time. And, I must say, that the priests I have known have honoured this confidentiality. By his own words, the family was not happy about him relating the story on his blog, which strongly suggests (although does not prove) that he did so without permission from the widow.

    vjtorley: And that’s just from the first page of comments. Notice that in comment no. 47, you criticized the priest for not naming names, and now you’re criticizing him for breaching confidentiality.

    These are not incompatible complaints. If he did not have permission to name names then he shouldn’t have propagated the story. If he had permission, then propagate away.

    vjtorley: I’m not asking for an apology, Acartia. I’m a big boy. I’ll be happy if you simply admit that you were mistaken.

    It is a good thing that you are not asking for an apology because I have nothing to apologize for. The facts remain little changed from the original telling of it. The only thing that has changed is that you have now confirmed the originator of the story (the widow). But it still remains an unsubstantiated story. The only facts we have is that patient HM died on June 16 in the Shawville hospital. And that his wife has complained about his treatment (a fact that we have only received yesterday, over two months after Fr. Moyle made the original accusations).

    vjtorley: As I said, I can understand your initial skepticism. But the evidence I have presented you should be enough to convince you that the hospital in question has a lot to answer for.

    That is yet to be determined. All we know is that they have a lot to respond to. As is required for all complaints.

  21. Acartia,

    By his own words, the family was not happy about him relating the story on his blog, which strongly suggests (although does not prove) that he did so without permission from the widow.

    By Fr. X’s own words, some (not all) members of the family were not happy about him relating the story on his blog. And even you now admit that the originator of the story is the widow. By the way, who do you think Fr. X obtained the complaint form from, so he could pass it on to me? As I mentioned above, it’s signed by her. How much more evidence do you need?

    I also mentioned that the widow intends to pursue the complaint through every possible avenue until justice is done.

    There may have been other members of the family who did not want the story to go public, but the widow evidently wasn’t one of them. Surely, in the end, it’s her decision, as she is nearest of kin to the deceased.

    “Unsubstantiated,” you continue to call the account, even though there’s a signed eyewitness report which has been forwarded to the Canadian authorities? You have a very odd definition of substantiation. Methinks you’re getting it mixed up with proof, which is quite a different concept. But I submit that any reasonable person, when confronted with the evidence I’ve presented, would conclude that the story is probably true.

    I’ve said all I want to say. There is no more evidence that I can possibly present. I’ve given you the smoking gun. If you don’t like it, you can lump it. All we can do is wait until the story hits the Canadian papers.

    Bye! I’ll leave you all to fight over it. One thing I do know: some people have a very strange way of assessing evidence.

  22. VJT,
    Thank you for the additional details.
    The whole morphine thing still strikes me as an irrelevant sideshow.
    I doubt that H was actually allergic to Dilaudid (hydromorphone). About 90% of such cases are pseudoallergy, i.e. bad side effects. [Drugs and Therapy Bulletin at the University of Florida. 2004;18:1-4.]
    If he were truly allergic, then the hospital should not have switched to morphine, but rather used an opioid in a different chemical class (e.g. fentanyl).
    So the opioids used may represent sub-optimal, potentially incompetent, medical practice.. “15 times the rate” is meaningless, unless we know which specific drugs and what route of administration were used.
    There’s no indication that the opioids hastened his demise. Opioids kill via respiratory depression (your nervous system fails to respond to CO2 levels in your blood), not “fluid in the lungs”, which sounds like heart/kidney failure.

    What is troubling is this:

    vjtorley: (4) The wife then insisted on meeting with the doctor, who informed her that it would be better to let the patient to die in a week to ten days of a bladder infection than to live for a year or more and then die a painful death of bone cancer. (The cancer was also spreading to the liver.) For this reason, the doctor refused to administer antibiotics for the bladder infection to the patient.

    If this is all that the doctor said to the wife, then a) he’s an asshole, and b) he’s guilty of God-complex arrogance.
    If, OTOH, he said something like this after explaining why antibiotics wouldn’t work, then he’s guilty of a truly ham-fisted attempt at consolation. This latter explanation would account for the behavior of the other doctors.
    But it may be that the doctor put his judgement (death by bone mets is so nasty, no-one who was fully informed would wish it) ahead of that of the patient (I’ll endure anything to see my daughters graduate). That is wrong, and would make this case relevant to the broader debate about how end-of-life decisions are made.
    Hopefully Fr. Moyle will be able to provide the Medical Examiner’s assessment of the complaint. Could you redact it, rather than precis it? Thanks.

  23. vjtorley: The lesson I’ve drawn from all this is that when people try to summarize a lengthy account, they often leave important stuff out which would shed light on the apparent discrepancies.

    No doubt, sometimes inadvertently,sometimes because it does not fit the narrative.

    In Fr. X’s original account of June 17, he wrote that the doctor “deliberately hastened ‘H’s end by ordering large amounts of morphine ‘to control pain’ which resulted in him losing consciousness as his lungs filled up with fluid.”

    And” In less than 24 hrs., ‘H’ was dead”. Did he intentionally leave out the fact the patient regained consciousness , lucid enough to make an informed decision per his wife? If it was for lack of knowledge it demonstrated a rush to judgement to make such a serious accusation.

    Then, when I pressed him on how much morphine was administered, he wrote back that he didn’t know the exact size of the dose, but that any dose would have been too large, as the patient was wearing an alert bracelet stating that he was allergic to morphine

    .

    Again at odds with the statement of the wife that” Morphine was then administered to the patient, but at a rate 15 times higher than what he had received at home.

    Finally, the wife’s official complaint reveals that the patient was indeed wearing an alert bracelet, saying that he was allergic to dilaudid (an opioid pain medication). The wife was subsequently informed by a nurse that the patient had been administered with dilaudid on two occasions, while the wife was absent.

    So we have a hospital screwing up, she has a beef with whoever prescribed it. But it was discontinued, correct?

    She doesn’t say who it was administered by. She goes on to add that after the administration of dilaudid was stopped, morphine was then administered to the patient, but at a rate 15 times higher than what he had received at home

    Reinforcing Fr X ‘s claim that the patient was allergic to morphine as incorrect

    Although her account does not state who administered the morphine, I think this raises a couple of red flags, don’t you?

    Yes it does, The hospital seems negligent to administering the drug dilaudid. The doctor’s actions should be examined. And FrX should have not rushed to publish a inflammatory culture wars article until he was certain what the actual facts were.

  24. vjtorley: By Fr. X’s own words, some (not all) members of the family were not happy about him relating the story on his blog. And even you now admit that the originator of the story is the widow. By the way, who do you think Fr. X obtained the complaint form from, so he could pass it on to me? As I mentioned above, it’s signed by her. How much more evidence do you need?

    I am not doubting that she lodged a complaint. I trust that you have seen the actual form. But that does not substantiate the events and conversations that she claims took place.

    vjtorley:Surely, in the end, it’s her decision, as she is nearest of kin to the deceased.

    I agree.

    vjtorley:“Unsubstantiated,” you continue to call the account, even though there’s a signed eyewitness report which has been forwarded to the Canadian authorities? You have a very odd definition of substantiation.

    Then it is the same definition used by the courts. You use evidence to substantiate charges or accusations. The accusation isn’t substantiation of the accusation. And the accusation, so far, is the extent of the evidence we have. The fact that the same accusation has been repeated by Fr. Moyle, Weigel, Dr. Perry and yourself does not make it any more valid. Only corroborating witnesses and associated evidence can do that. None of which is available yet.

    vjtorley: But I submit that any reasonable person, when confronted with the evidence I’ve presented, would conclude that the story is probably true.

    No they wouldn’t. A reasonable person would conclude that the accusation alone is insufficient evidence to support the accusation.

  25. Acartia,

    Thanks for the h/t. The report is in agreement with the official complaint, whose contents I summarized above. Worth noting:

    According to a priest from the Pembroke diocese, which straddles Ontario and Quebec, this is the third case he is aware of involving a patient being refused treatment for bladder infections because of cancer or old age. In two cases, the patients died, said Fr. Tim Moyle. In the other case, the family was able to force doctors to treat their family member.

    “Doctors in general possess a healthy sense of entitlement,” said Moyle. “Giving them the power of life and death, as the euthanasia law does, has only made this situation worse.”

    I’m looking forward to hearing what the medical examiner has to say.

  26. I am beginning to respect Fr. Moyle even less than the low respect I already had for him. It appears evident that he manipulated and took advantage of a grieving widow to propogate his opposition to doctor assisted suicide.

    “This is a case where it appears the tenets of Bill 52 may have influenced the actions of some of the medical practitioners involved, although its protocols were not respected,” reads the complaint, filed with the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) de l’Outaouais.”

    Do these really sound like the words of a grieving widow? If he was in fact the person who put these thoughts in her head then he is a despicable human being. His role as a priest is to provide comfort and aid to those who are suffering. Not to stir up anger and hatred.

  27. vjtorley: I’m looking forward to hearing what the medical examiner has to say.

    That probably should have preceded the blog post, in the first place.

  28. From complaint:
    “This is a case where it appears the tenets of Bill 52 may have influenced the actions of some of the medical practitioners involved, although its protocols were not respected,” “

    Of what practical purpose does this statement have with respect to the complaint? If the acts and behaviour of the doctor(s) she has asserted is true, then one or more doctors is guilty of malpractice. Possibly with criminal negligence or even manslaughter. It has nothing to do wil doctor assisted suicide.

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