March 17, 2022
Qaiser Fahim remembers clearly the life-or-death dilemma that set him on a path to Osgoode Hall.
He was working in Saskatchewan as a bioethicist, providing consultation to physicians and families on some of the prickliest ethical problems encountered in the province’s hospitals—including end-of-life decisions. On this occasion, Fahim faced what seemed like an impossible situation: a patient had been declared neurologically dead, but his family insisted that as long as his heart was pumping, he was alive. What should be done?
Fahim wasn’t new to challenging circumstances. Besides his years as a bioethicist in Ontario and Saskatchewan, he had trained as a doctor in India and practiced as a physician in the Middle East. He was familiar with end-of-life issues. But that didn’t mean that making these impossible calls had become any easier.
“Decision making is challenging in these circumstances where there is greater harm than benefit to continuing to keep a person on a ventilator” he says. “What do we do if we don’t know their wishes, we don’t know their values and beliefs and there is disagreement between the family and the care team?”
The situation he faced in Saskatchewan was especially difficult. There seemed to be no clear applicable law, limited guidance—he was adrift. “I decided I needed to know more about how laws play a role in ethics issues, especially around end of life,” he says.
He found that in Osgoode’s LLM in Health Law, a wide-ranging program that delves deep into issues around disability and mental health, the latest developments in bioethics and applicable laws, and complexity of federal and provincial legal regimes governing Canadian healthcare.
The program is unique as well in that it’s open not only to lawyers, but anyone with a demonstrable professional interest in the field. That meant the student body is diverse, encompassing lawyers, physicians, entrepreneurs, policymakers, professional ethicists like Fahim and many more.
“What I really enjoyed was how interactive it was, people from all over Canada with all kinds of expertise joining in virtually,” says Fahim. “We had amazing conversations, bringing forth different ideas, and everyone brought different perspectives that deepened my understanding of these ethical issues, and law and health…. I was surrounded by individuals who I would say were, well, brilliant. And I got to pick their brains. What an amazing opportunity.”
In the end, Fahim didn’t find a definitive legal answer to the situation that originally drove him to Osgoode—one doesn’t exist, except for case law precedence. But he did emerge with a deeper understanding of how to navigate the ethical complexities of his profession. He puts that knowledge to use today as a clinical ethicist in Ontario.
“A good friend of mine told me that the more you learn, the more question you think to ask,” he says. “That’s what the program did for me. I came out with far more questions, and I can’t think of a better outcome. It’s an amazing program to have.”
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