July 12, 2016
Alzheimer’s Patient Kept Alive Against Her Will
Eighty-two-year-old Margaret Bentley is an Alzheimer’s patient at a Fraser Health nursing home (Maplewood House) that is spoon-feeding her against the former nurses wishes, expressed in her living will long before she became ill.
Her family has filed a lawsuit alleging the feeding violates the patient’s rights and constitutes. The Supreme Court of BC lawsuit is anticipated to set precedent as it should clarify end of life rights of patients and the obligations of health providers.
Bentley’s daughter, Katherine Hammond, said her mom would have never wanted to become a right to die “test case”.
“I feel terrible that this part of her life has been made public, but on the other hand, my mom would want to see this issue addressed. So my hope is that we can move from a place of sadness to one of a lasting legacy,” Hammond said, adding:
“End of life care directives are obviously in a grey zone if health providers are misinterpreting or misapplying laws. So yes, this will be precedent setting,” Hammond said.
While she hopes the case is heard this year, the family will advocate for the issue regardless.
“We don’t want others to have to go through we’ve experienced. I feel like this involves many more people than just my mom, “ said Hammond, who noted that Vancouver lawyer Kieran Bridge has accepted the case on a pro bono basis.
(Related: The Importance of Durable Power of Attorney)
Bentley was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1999 at age 68. She had witnessed the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia and told those close to her that she wished to be allowed to die if she ever reached such a state.
She was institutionalized in 2005 and in a “vegetative” state for the last three years.
Amassing over 100 pages, the lawsuit describes how messy the case has become as even Fraser health has directed the nursing home staff to call the police if family members attempt to move Bentley from the premises.
The plaintiffs are asking the court for a declaration that the feeding is akin to battery and that the facility is violating her Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The suit relies on 18 additional rules, regulations and statutes in an effort to prove that Bentley’s rights are being violated.
The suit requests that the court recognize Bentley’s 19991 “Statement of Wishes” as a valid and enforceable advance directed under the Health Care Consent Act. In that signed documents, Bentley specifically said she did not wish to be fed “nourishment or liquids” of she ever developed an incurable medical condition involving mental or physical disability. She said she wanted to be allowed to died.
Hammond, who was also a nurse before she went into another career in health care, said every day in BC, health providers respect patient’s wishes if they want to die.
“I think this case is somewhat of an anomaly and I still don’t know why an unknown third party prevented us from enacting my mother’s wishes. We have had fairly amicable relations with the care home until recently, when we found out that we were perceived as a threat.”
Hammond said she doesn’t visit her mom very often these days.
“This is a family tragedy. I said goodbye to my mom a long time ago,” she said, explaining that it hurts too much to see her mom in a completely unresponsive state.