Care home force-feeding senior against her will, family says
CTV British Columbia
Published Tuesday, July 9, 2013 8:24PM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 9, 2013 8:27PM PDT
The family of a B.C. senior suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease says health officials are keeping her alive, despite wishes she made clear in a living will.
Katherine Hammond remembers her 81-year-old mother Margot Bentley as a beautiful, kind, and vibrant woman – but the woman she remembers is gone.
Bentley is still alive, but hasn’t been able to recognize her family for years. She can no longer speak, move, or even open her eyes.
“We all miss her hugely,” Hammond told CTV News. “The whole situation has taken quite a toll on the family.”
Bentley used to care for Alzheimer’s patients as a nurse, and knew how the disease could ultimately impact her life.
Long before her symptoms took over, in the early 1990s Bentley signed an advance directive, a legal document with instructions for her future care.
It reads that: “If there is no reasonable expectation of my recovery, from extreme physical or mental disability, I direct that I be allowed to die.”
The document specifies that she is to be given no nourishment or liquids.
“Her right to die with dignity was very important to mom,” Hammond said.
But at the Abbotsford care home where Bentley now lives, her advance directive isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
Despite the family’s requests, and numerous meetings with the Fraser Health Authority, staff are still feeding her, a process her doctor Andrew Edelson sees as a violation of her patient’s rights.
“In my view, she’s legally being assaulted three times a day,” Edelson said.
The Fraser Health Authority said it could not speak to Bentley’s individual case, but issued a statement saying there are certain scenarios where advance directives don’t apply.
“Advance directives are legally binding documents that address the instructions of patients regarding their health care (emphasis theirs),” the authority wrote.
“The [Health Care Act] does not define the provision of food by mouth as ‘health care.’”
Fraser Health added that it is bound by law to continue feeding patients like Bentley.
But criminologist Rob Gordon, who helped draft B.C.’s health consent and adult guardianship laws, insists the province is interpreting the law too cautiously.
Gordon said every adult has the right to refuse treatment to health care, and patients like Bentley can exercise that right in advance through a legal document.
“I think [her case] is probably going to lead to legal action, as it should,” Gordon said.
“The family should push this. They should push it on behalf of many others who are in this situation, too.”
Hammond said legal action is one avenue her family may pursue – which would leave it to a judge to determine whether her mother’s final wishes will be honoured.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Camille MacDonald