Father testifies in court fight to keep daughter on life support
BRAMPTON, Ontario. – A Toronto man who is fighting a lawsuit to keep his 27-year-old daughter life sustaining after she was pronounced brain dead said in an Ontario court Friday that he never had a chance to tell her doctors about her religious beliefs to tell.
Stanley Stewart acknowledged that he had never raised religious objections to brain death in discussions with doctors or in a series of affidavits he filed in his battle to have his daughter’s death certificate overturned.
While he couldn’t remember ever explicitly discussing Taquisha McKitty’s wishes in the event she was considered brain dead, Stewart told a Brampton, Ontario court that he knew his daughter believed a person was alive as long as her heart is still beating, because that’s what he taught her to grow up.
“I don’t think (brain death) is a real death, that’s not my family’s belief,” he said during cross-examination.
“I grew up with this view ΓÇ and that’s the same value system that I passed on to my four children and my granddaughter,” he said. “(McKitty) understood, she has a daughter and through her daughter she continued the same philosophy.”
The family’s lawyer argues that declaring McKitty dead on the basis of neurological criteria is contrary to her religious beliefs and therefore constitutes discrimination.
“The defendant only used medical criteria to conclude that Taquisha is ‘dead’, regardless of Taquisha’s express religious beliefs,” wrote Hugh Scher in his petitions to the court.
“Such consideration is essential to respect for the multicultural fabric of Canadian society and for the deep respect our society has for the firmly anchored religious beliefs of every person.”
Doctors treating McKitty have failed to inquire about her beliefs and values before screening her for brain death, effectively imposing her own values on her, Scher said.
Other jurisdictions, including the states of New York and New Jersey, are making provisions for religious beliefs in determining the time of death, he said, suggesting that Ontario do the same.
McKitty’s doctor’s attorney, meanwhile, said the family had only recently brought up the issue of religion after initially arguing that their relative simply did not meet the criteria for brain death.
“There are no facts to support Ms. McKitty’s religious beliefs,” said Erica Baron in affidavits submitted by her father.
The court heard that McKitty was hospitalized after a drug overdose in mid-September and was pronounced brain dead days later after her condition worsened and she stopped breathing on her own.
Her family obtained a restraining order to keep her on a ventilator and perform further medical tests while she contested this decision.
The judge who oversaw the case recently turned down the family’s offer to record McKitty’s movements for 72 hours, saying there was no medical or scientific evidence that such a test would be helpful.
The family had tried filming McKitty because they believed it would allow doctors to better determine if her movements were spinal reflexes or more.
Three Toronto area doctors, including the one who pronounced McKitty brain dead, told the court that the movements should not be interpreted as signs of life.
A California neurologist provided an affidavit saying that while he could not say with certainty that the movements were reflexes, other tests they conducted suggested that it was likely.
Closing filings are expected to continue on Monday.