February 10, 2014 By: Marcia Green
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Recently the daughter of Margaret Bentley, a British Columbia woman with advanced Alzheimer's disease, brought a lawsuit against the provincial government, Fraser Health and Maplewood House – the seniors' home where the mother lives – for continuing to spoon-feed her contrary to a "statement of wishes" that she signed in 1991. Mrs. Bentley's statement of wishes states that she be allowed to die and that she requests "no nourishment or liquids". Mrs. Bentley's family found another "statement of wishes” which provided that she "be allowed to die and not be kept alive by artificial means such as life support systems, tube feeding, antibiotics, resuscitation or blood transfusion." The second "statement of wishes" was unsigned and not dated. Since late 2011, Mrs. Bentley has been in a vegetative state.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia heard this case and ruled that Mrs. Bentley, despite being unable to speak or recognize family members, still exhibited behavior that indicated she wanted to be spoon-fed. The Court ruled that because Mrs. Bentley would accept food and drink when it was offered to her and appeared to have a preference for some foods over others, that she was capable of giving consent. It is through this means of communication that Mrs. Bentley was providing her consent to receive care.

This case clearly illustrates the debate that exists in our country about whether or not a person is able to choose a peaceful death. When preparing your Living Will, or what is better known as a Power of Attorney for Personal Care, you should consult a lawyer. Although you may have clear instructions on what decisions should be made if you are unable to make those decisions yourself, you and your family members should understand that the substantive debate over whether to legalize assisted suicide practices, and how such practices should be monitored or restricted continues. With an aging population, the debate of a person's the right to die will continue to be a hot topic in the months and years to come.

Thank you for reading!

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2017 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.