Abbotsford nursing home responds to ‘living will’ court case

Husband and daughter of a resident with Alzheimer's disease are petitioning the courts to have her wishes granted that she not be fed.

The prospect of having to deny food to a resident of an Abbotsford care home, thereby leading to her death, has already traumatized some of her caregivers, according to documents filed in a civil court case.

The documents were filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver by Maplewood Seniors’ Care Society. They are in response to a petition filed in court in August on behalf of Margaret Bentley, 82, a resident of Maplewood House who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The petition was filed by Bentley’s husband, John, and her daughter, Katherine Hammond. They state that Bentley, a former nurse, prepared a “statement of wishes” in 1991 – eight years before the onset of her condition – that she be fed “no nourishment or liquids” if she were in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.

Staff at Maplewood House have continued to feed Bentley since her family requested in late 2011 that her “living will” be honoured.

Bentley’s husband and daughter are seeking an order from the court that FHA and staff at the home comply with Bentley’s wishes that she not be fed, and that the family not be prevented from removing her from the nursing home.

In its response, Maplewood Seniors’ Care Society states that staff are legally required to provide Bentley with nourishment.

“While the law permits a person to die without the assistance of extraordinary measures and by refusing health care which would prolong his or her existence, John and Katherine seek the assistance of the Honourable Court to procure the death of Margaret by starvation, which is not only illegal, but also offensive to public decency,” the documents state.

They also say that Bentley, who is spoon fed, shows a preference for certain foods, sometimes finishes her meals and other times refuses to eat.

They see her participation in feeding as an indication that she is not yet ready to stop eating, and halting the process would have an impact on her caregivers, the documents say.

“The process of starving Margaret to death would have a traumatic effect upon some or all … staff members, who have not been trained to preside over the death of a human being other than in the normal course.”

Bentley’s husband and daughter state in their petition that Bentley’s current mental state makes her incapable of consenting to her health care. She has been in a “vegetative state” since 2010, no longer recognizing family members, unable to speak and making limited physical movements, they say.

Also named in the petition were Fraser Health and the provincial government. The two agencies have also both filed responses which, in part, detail their legal obligations to provide nourishment to Bentley.

The petition is scheduled to be heard in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Dec. 17.

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