CIVIL RIGHTS AT RISK: ACCESS TO JUSTICE
Subject: Farlow vs. Hospital for Sick Children et al.
Description: Motion by Hospital Threatens Access to Justice for Infant
Born with Genetic Condition whose Death Involves Disturbing Circumstances
Event Date and Location: May 7th, 2009 at 10:00-12:00 am, at 393 University Avenue, 10th Floor, Toronto, Canada.
The Toronto Hospital for Sick Children has called a motion to request for an order to transfer a $10,000 Small Claims file to Superior Court, where the cost of litigation would be utterly prohibitive. The reason the Hospital has stated the request for the transfer is that the issues involved in the Claim are “serious,” “complex” and are such that “the Hospital’s reputation is in jeopardy.”
The Farlows cannot find a lawyer to defend the case on a contingency basis due to the fact that the costs would very likely exceed any potential award for a child such as Annie with predicted disabilities. Should they lose the Motion, they will have to drop the Claim.
The lawsuit relates to the provision of medical care leading to the death of 80-day-old Annie, who died within 24 hours arrival at the world class children’s Hospital in August of 2005.
The allegations include, but are not limited to, the placing of a DNR order without informed consent and a multitude of violations in narcotic policies including an absent final Medication Administration Report and an unauthorized lethal withdrawal of narcotics. The Farlows have good reason to believe that the administration of lethal narcotics ultimately caused Annie’s death.
The Coroner’s Paediatric Death Review Committee reported;
“The events of the final 24 hours and the initiation of palliative care together with writing of DNR order…do not represent appropriate forms of care. …it was by no means certain that she (Annie) would have to undergo prolonged interventions such as prolonged ventilation or distressful surgery.”
Coroner’s Paediatric Death Review Committee Report April 13, 2007
A comprehensive medical review resulted in stronger comments
“It is reprehensible and contrary to the basic tenets of the good practice of medicine that this infant was left to endure continual and progressive asphyxiation. The medical treatment provided to Annie by the medical system did not reflect standards of practice, professional codes of ethics and family centred care. Failures of this kind are not expected of pediatricians and pediatric specialists in any hospital, much less a hospital dedicated to the special needs and requirements to treat sick infants and children.”
Dr. Paul Byrne, Neonatologist, Expert Medical Review
The Hospital provided a written apology and had many meetings with the family. However, the Farlows deemed the apology to be insincere because no satisfactory recommendations could be developed that would ensure that another child and family would not suffer the same fate.
“Sometimes, when we care for children such as Annie who have very complex care needs…communication does not occur in as clear and consistent fashion as we would wish. For that we are very sorry.”
Sickkids VP. Seonag Macrae, May 23, 2006
The Farlows believe that Annie’s medical care was governed by policies and practices that specifically and covertly withhold life saving treatment from infants born with certain genetic conditions. The targeted conditions are thought to be those related to cognitive delays for which prenatal testing (genetic and ultrasound) is capable of detecting and the option for pregnancy termination exists.
There is ample reason to believe that the issues epitomize the concerns of what some call the “New Eugenics.” There is growing concern that the “personal choice” made by the majority to terminate pregnancies for certain conditions is translating into a denial of treatment for infants born with these conditions.
With a maximum award of $10, 000, the lawsuit is clearly one of principle. The Small Claims Court provides the most expeditious route and in fact the only route to civil justice for babies like Annie. Should the Hospital be successful in their motion, the effect will be to silence Annie’s story and any valuable insight that might have been gained by a trial for the benefit of other vulnerable children.