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St. Anthony mother claims physician-assisted death was wrongly offered for her daughter

'I'm her voice and you're going to hear me'


Published on July 19, 2017

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.

©Submitted

ST. ANTHONY, N.L. — 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.

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

She’s had 62 surgeries. She is immobile, bedbound and requires 24-hour care, care that 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 Candice had been admitted to hospital, and doctors suggested that Lewis was dying.

Elson described her conversation with Heroux in a Nov. 21 letter to Labrador-Grenfell Health’s chief operating officer (South region), Barbara Molgaard-Blake.

Elson wrote that Heroux had taken her out 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,” she said.

She contends the doctor suggested she was being selfish and that 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.

I’m her voice and you’re going to hear me.

Sheila Elson

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 that Heroux is currently not on locum assignment with Labrador-Grenfell 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.

She 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,” said Inkpen.

“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.’”

 

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca