OTTAWA -- The family of 74-year-old Souheil Tabbara believes he is being prematurely removed from life support because the Ottawa Hospital is under pressure to make more room for intensive care beds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is my belief, that they are preparing for a surge in numbers, this may be why they are rushing to this decision," said his daughter, Nadine Tabbara.

Tabbara contracted COVID-19 in late January and has been on a ventilator since early February. Although he has declined significantly, his family believes he is still responsive, there is still brain function, and doctors should not remove him from life support machines.

"He cannot move and he cannot speak, but he can make eye contact. Why do you want to terminate life support, if he still has brain function," asked Nadine.

The family also argues that Tabbara's human rights are being violated because it is a violation of Islam to remove life support while there is still brain function.

"This is a violation of his human rights, to be able to practice his religion, and this is what we are fighting for. To practice his religion and maintain life, while he has brain activity," said Nadine.

In a statement, the Ottawa Hospital declined to comment on the specific case, but said the pandemic has not impacted access to critical care, or palliative care.

“The Ottawa Hospital works with patients and families to ensure that all decisions made around care are clear, thorough, and made in the best interests of the patient. Hospital capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic has not influenced access to critical care at all, and does not influence decisions on moving to palliative care. The hospital supports the work of the Consent and Capacity Board to resolve rare complex situations between patients, their representatives and physicians through a third party. While we are not in position to comment on the decisions of the Board, their work allows cases to be analyzed through a defined, open process that hears all sides.”

The family has been told that a decision on Tabbara’s care going forward will be made in the next few days.