A lawyer who took it upon herself to interfere in a decision to withdraw life support from her severely brain damaged client had no right to do so and deserves to have legal costs assessed against her, Ontario’s top court has ruled.
In its decision, the Court of Appeal slammed Georgiana Masgras for getting in the way of her client’s family and his doctors, and potentially ruining an opportunity to donate his organs.
Masgras, the court concluded, breached the basic principles of how lawyers should behave and their “duty to act honourably” and seriously interfered with the administration of justice.
The case arose when Fernando Ferreira, of Kitchener, Ont., went into unexpected cardiac arrest at home in July 2017. Paramedics managed to restore his pulse, and took him to St. Mary’s General Hospital, where he was placed on life support. Within days, however, it became clear his brain was badly damaged and he had no prospect of recovery.
In agreement with more than a dozen family members and medical professionals, court records show, Ferreira’s wife decided her husband should be taken off life support and his organs donated. When Masgras found out about Ferreira’s condition, she contacted Ferreira’s wife and members of his family to urge them to reconsider the decision to let him die, court records show. They refused.
Masgras decided to ask the courts to block the hospital from withdrawing life support from Ferreira to allow for “further consideration,” records show.
“Ms. Masgras never told any member of Mr. Ferreira’s family that she intended to go to court and obtain an injunction to restrain the family from doing what they had decided to do — that is, to remove Mr. Ferreira from life support,” the Appeal Court said.
The lawyer spent hours preparing her materials, serving them on an intensive care nurse in the hospital at around 3 a.m., and emailing them to the court. She never sent them to Ferreira’s family, court records show.
At 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, Masgras went to intensive care and advised the doctor in charge of Ferreira’s care that she had a judge on the phone who had made a verbal order against taking him off life support. Doctors standing by to remove his organs for donation left. The family, when informed of the development, were “upset and confused,” the Appeal Court said.
Ferreira’s condition worsened and it became apparent his organs could be ruined for donation purposes. As a result, his doctor turned to the courts on the Sunday and Superior Court Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco quashed the injunction against taking Ferreira off life support.
Ferreira soon died and his organs were donated but Masgras went ahead and appealed Marrocco’s ruling anyway. She also appealed an order she pay close to $50,000 to the various parties to cover their legal costs.
In dismissing her challenge, the higher court said Masgras had no instructions to ask for the initial injunction or from his estate to appeal the rulings against her.
“In any event, as is apparent from the facts, the appeal is now moot,” the Appeal Court said. “Even if Ms. Masgras could bring a successful appeal to set aside the reviewing judge’s order — and it would not be successful — the result would be of no moment given that the Mr. Ferreira is deceased.”
On the costs issue, Masgras said she was obliged as Ferreira’s lawyer to protect his interests given his mental incapacity — a position the Appeal Court rejected emphatically.
“Lawyers do not have a carte blanche to take steps of their own volition under the guise of furthering the client’s perceived cause,” the Appeal Court said. “In particular, lawyers do not have the right to institute proceedings without being armed with instructions from their clients.”
The higher court also ordered her to pay another $30,000 to the doctor and hospital for the costs of the appeal.