Jury finds nurse not guilty of manslaughter after removing patient from life support
A jury has found Joanna Flynn not guilty of manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death when she removed patient Deanna Leblanc from life support.
Leblanc was rushed to Georgian Bay General Hospital in the morning of March 2, 2014 with a medical complication two days after having knee surgery in Newmarket. She had to be resuscitated several times. She was on life support in the intensive care unit and died that evening after Flynn terminated her life support about one hour into her shift.
The main issue in the trial was whether Flynn obtained voluntary and informed consent from Deanna Leblanc’s husband Michael and whether she involved the most responsible physician in the process.
The crown had argued Flynn committed an unlawful act when she allegedly coerced Leblanc's husband for consent who was not in the right state of mind and overstepped her role as a nurse by making a decision that should have been left to a doctor.
Flynn has admitted through the trial that she did in fact remove Deanna Leblanc from life support, but said she did so after getting permission from Leblanc’s husband.
She told the jury it was Michael Leblanc who brought up discontinuing his wife’s life support when she asked him about a do-not-resuscitate order. Flynn insisted that she repeatedly asked Michael if he wanted to take some time to think about his decision, but he insisted that it should be done.
Flynn testified that she followed the guidelines created by the Ontario College of Nurses. Those indicate that she doesn’t need a doctor’s approval, only the order of the “substitute decision maker.” In this case that was Deanna Leblanc’s husband.
Flynn told the jury that those guidelines are no longer included on college of nurse’s website and that they have been removed with no explanation.
Flynn also testified that she tried to involve the most responsible physician, Dr. Dolezel several times, but was dismissed and told to wait. She also stated that she was legally obligated to follow the decision of the substitute decision maker. Flynn did not tell the physician she was terminating the life support.
The court has heard testimony that the Dr. Dolezel was not part of the decision to end Leblanc's life support, which an expert witness called "unprecedented."
Dolezel testified that he wasn’t ready to give up on Leblanc, saying he was “dumbfounded” when he found out about her death.
At the start of the trial Michael Leblanc testified he provided Flynn with approval, but added that he felt pressured and was not in the right state of mind.
He testified that Flynn told him his wife was already dead and he had the choice of letting her pass away peacefully or watch her heart explode.
The defence had argued that Flynn relied on the information from other doctors on Deanna’s condition and that Michael Leblanc had legitimate reasons for his decision based on information he received from hospital staff on his wife's condition throughout the day.
The defence argued that the hospital’s policy on discontinuing life support does not specifically direct a doctor’s order is required.
The defence also argued there is no law prohibiting a nurse from removing life support at the request of the substitute decision maker.
Michael Leblanc told CTV News he is disappointed with the verdict and needs time to digest it.
There are still ongoing civil suits related to the matter.
- With a report from CTV Barrie's Rob Cooper