Family of Alzheimer's patient goes to court with test case on power of living wills
Published Monday, August 12, 2013 10:01PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, August 12, 2013 11:26PM EDT
Sometime this fall a B.C. court will hear the case of an elderly Alzheimer's patient whose family is challenging the home where she lives and receives care. The family says their mother signed a document stating she did not want to be kept alive if she fell ill like this.
Margot Bentley spent much of her nursing career caring for patients with Alzheimer’s, and was well aware of the consequences of the disease.
"If there is no expectation for recovery from extreme disability, I request to be allowed to die,” she wrote in a living will that was signed in 1991.
The document says Margot asked not to be kept alive by artificial means. “No nourishment or liquids," it states.
Eight years after signing the living will, Margot was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s herself. Now severely ill for the past three years, she can no longer speak or move.
The care facility says it won't stop feeding, and won’t transfer her to a palliative care facility recommended by her doctor.
That’s set off a legal battle that her daughter Katherine Hammond and Margot’s second husband John are launching on her behalf.
Her family now wants the nursing home -- Maplewood House in Abbotsford, B.C. -- to stop spoon-feeding her and respect the wishes expressed in the living will.
"Her right to die with dignity was very important to mum,” Hammond told CTV News.
Another daughter, Danielle Tuck, has filed a statement in court Monday supporting her sister Katherine’s affidavit.
“After Margot's diagnosis in 1999, she told me that when she worked as a nurse, she had often seen people who were suffering from Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and said she did not want that happening to her,” Danielle’s statement says.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Margot does not want to live in her present state,” the statement concludes.
The staff at the publicly-subsidized facility continues to feed her.
In statements to the media, officials say they are obligated “to provide the necessities of life ... that includes food and fluid."
The Fraser Health Authority issued a statement: “What we can say is that in order for wishes or instructions to be followed, Advance Care Plans must, among other things, apply to the healthcare situation taking place, be clear, and must also meet certain legal criteria. Specifically, an instruction or wish that is prohibited by law, or to omit to do anything this is required by law, is not valid.”
The family has filed suits against the home, the regional health authority and the province, and their case is supported by Margot Bentley's own doctor, Dr. Andrew Edelson.
“She is -- I think -- being legally assaulted three times a day,” Edelson said.
The family's lawyer believes many will be watching this test case, one that he hopes will clarify the power of a living will.
Kieran Bridge told CTV News that this case has been difficult for the family to pursue.
“One of the frustrating things about the case has been that both the family and Margot Bentley’s physician asked Fraser Health to explain what their legal position is, and to provide any copies of documents or legal authority that they are relying on, and their requests were expressly turned down,” Bridge said. “So we don’t really know what Fraser Health is relying on despite express requests…. Now they are going to have explain themselves.”
It will fall to a judge to decide if the document Margot Bentley wrote 22 years ago will decide her fate. The documents were filed in court last week and a hearing may be held in the fall.
With a report by CTV Medical Specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip