Alzheimer’s patient must continue to be fed, Court of Appeal rules

The family of Margaret Bentley of Abbotsford has lost another bid to have her 'living will' followed

Maplewood House in Abbotsford has been the subject of a lawsuit involving the feeding of an Alzheimer's patient.

Maplewood House in Abbotsford has been the subject of a lawsuit involving the feeding of an Alzheimer's patient.

A B.C. Court of Appeal panel has dismissed an appeal contesting an earlier decision that an Abbotsford nursing home must continue to feed an Alzheimer’s patient, despite her family’s wishes.

The ruling, made earlier today (Tuesday), upholds the decision made in February 2014 that staff at Maplewood House must continue to feed Margaret Bentley.

Bentley’s daughter, Katherine Hammond, and husband, John Bentley, filed a petition against Maplewood Seniors’ Care Society, Fraser Health and the provincial government in August 2013.

They indicated that Bentley, 83, had prepared a “statement of wishes” in 1991 – eight years before the onset of her condition – stating that she be fed “no nourishment or liquids” if she were in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.

As a former nurse, she had seen what the condition is like, and “she wished to be allowed to die if she reached such a state,” according to the petition.

Bentley continued to stress her wishes when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1999 at the age of 68, the petition stated.

By 2010, she was in a “vegetative state” and no longer recognized family members, was unable to speak and made limited physical movements.

Maplewood staff have been feeding her by spoon and offering her liquids. They stated that Bentley opens her mouth when a glass or spoon is placed on her lower lip, but also refuses nourishment by keeping her mouth closed.

They argued that denying her food and allowing her to die would constitute neglect and would be a criminal act.

Justice Bruce Greyell agreed in February 2014 that Bentley must continue to be fed, as she had been consenting to take food and water.

On appeal, the petitioners argued that Greyell had erred in that decision and that Bentley had been “prompted” to eat and drink, which constituted “battery.”

The three-judge appeal court panel disagreed and said they believed Bentley has consented to eating or drinking, and Maplewood staff do not go further when she does not open her mouth.

Justice Mary Newbury said she understood how difficult it must be for Bentley’s family to be unable to comply with what they believe to have been her wishes.

“It is a grave thing, however, to ask or instruct caregivers to stand by and watch a patient starve to death,” she said in the written decision.