Right to Die

Right to dieRight to Die Cases Are Proliferating

Family asks court to let Abbotsford woman die under terms of her living will.

Nursing home has refused to stop spoon-feeding woman in vegetative state from advanced Alzheimer’s

BY KEVIN GRIFFIN, VANCOUVER SUN

Handout photo of Margot Bentley. In 1999, Margot Bentley, then in her late 60s, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She used to be a nurse who cared for Alzheimer’s patients and wrote a living will that she should not receive medical care and be allowed to die.
The family of an 82-year-old women with Alzheimer’s so advanced she’s in a vegetative state asked the B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday to order her nursing home to live up to her living will and stop feeding her the food and liquids that are keeping her alive.

Margaret (Margot) Bentley has lived at Maplewood Seniors Care Society in Abbotsford since 2009. Bentley is now at Stage 7 of the seven stages of Alzheimer’s, the most advanced level of decline, lawyer Kieran Bridge told Justice Bruce Greyell.

Bridge is representing Bentley’s husband, John, and her daughter, Katherine Hammond, in a lawsuit against the nursing home, Fraser Health Authority and the provincial government.

For the past three years, Bentley has been spoon fed by nursing home staff. Her eyes are closed most of the time, she doesn’t recognize any of her family members, she hasn’t spoken and she has only limited physical movement.

Her cognitive decline is so severe her “brain no longer appears to be able to tell her body what to do,” Bridge said.

Bridge told the court that Bentley had extensive experience working with patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia during her years as a registered nurse. He said she made it clear in her living will, which she signed and had witnessed in 1991, that she didn’t want to be kept alive simply to prolong her existence.

Bridge said her living will spells out that she if suffered from an incurable disease that she “be allowed to die and not kept alive by artificial means” including “nourishment or liquids.

“Following her diagnosis in 1999,” Bridge said, “she frequently expressed her wish that she did not want to live in a state of advanced Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

Bridge, reading statements from Bentley’s husband, said she “frequently expressed relief” that she had made her wishes so clear to family members. “She frequently said: ‘Don’t let it happen to me’,” Bridge said.

Bridge took the court through the story of Bentley’s life, from a baby born to a single mother and then adopted. He showed a binder with photos of Bentley as a woman, when she graduated as a nurse in the 1950s and another of her fishing.

In 1981, Bentley married John and became a realtor. They had a winter home in Mexico that they regularly visited until 2004 when her health deteriorated to the point that she could no longer travel.

“The reason I’m showing you these photographs is that they show she had a full, active and rewarding life,” Bridge said. “The contrast between what her life was and what her existence is now is startling.”

Court documents filed by the family include a 2011 statement by her husband John. He pleads with the director of care at the nursing home to follow his wife’s wishes and not feed her any longer.

“I’m begging you to instruct your staff to abide with Margot’s wishes as she has stated in this Living Will,” he said. “Do not prolong this existence.”

In another document, the lawyer representing the provincial government said nursing home staff would be helping Bentley commit suicide if they stopped feeding her.

“To the extent that (the patient’s) statement of wishes (living will) constitutes an instruction to assist her in committing suicide, it cannot be enforced without the commission of an offence,” Crown lawyer Jonathan Penner said.

In Canada, euthanasia is illegal.

The defendants argue that spoon feeding is basic care, not medical care, so cannot legally be stopped. They’re expected to make their arguments today and Thursday in court.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Trevor Todd

Trevor Todd is one of the province’s most esteemed estate litigation lawyers. He has spent more than 40 years helping the disinherited contest wills and transfers – and win. From his Kerrisdale office, which looks more like an eclectic art gallery than a lawyer’s office, Trevor empowers claimants and restores dignity to families across BC. He is a mentor to young entrepreneurs and an art buff who supports starving artists the world over. He has an eye for talent and a heart for giving back.

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