TORONTO – A family that went to court to keep their daughter on life support after she was declared brain dead says the Toronto-area woman’s heart stopped beating on Monday, rendering her dead in their view.
Taquisha McKitty was 27 when doctors declared her “dead by neurological criteria” in September 2017 following a drug overdose that left her unconscious on a Brampton, Ont., sidewalk.
McKitty’s family turned to the courts to prevent doctors from taking her off life support, saying the fact that her heart was still beating meant she was still alive according to the terms of her religious faith.
An Ontario court ruled against her family over the summer, a decision her relatives were in the process of appealing.
A lawyer representing her family issued a statement on Monday afternoon saying McKitty’s heart had stopped beating earlier in the day.
In the statement, McKitty’s father thanked the public for their support of the family during their court battle.
“This courageous lady and her family have pursued a tireless fight for respect for religious liberty and equality and respect for her devout Christian beliefs that recognize death as cardiorespiratory and not neurological death,” lawyer Hugh Scher said in the statement. “Her heart stopped beating earlier this morning resulting in her biological death.”
The McKitty family saga began shortly after her overdose, which left her clinically brain-dead. Her family’s opposition to the finding, and fight to keep her on life support, stemmed from a contention that McKitty’s Christian faith defines death as the cessation of heartbeat, not of brain function.
Citing charter protections, they argued doctors should make accommodations for religious beliefs in making a determination of death, and obtained an injunction to keep her on a respirator while the case was before the courts.
An Ontario Superior Court judge ruled against them over the summer, saying the charter did not apply to McKitty because the document only protects “persons” and McKitty, because she was clinically brain dead, was not legally a “person.”
The judge also said in her ruling that death could not, in Ontario, be subject to a person’s wishes or beliefs because that could lead to “an unacceptable level of medical, legal and societal uncertainty” and cause potential adverse effects on the health-care and organ donation system.
The family appealed the ruling, arguing earlier this month that determining and certifying death is a delegated state function, and therefore subject to scrutiny under the charter.