Skip to main content

The daughter of a British Columbia woman with advanced Alzheimer's disease has lost a court battle to have a judge honour her mother's living will by ordering a stop to spoon feeding.

Katherine Hammond went to the Supreme Court of British Columbia saying that the spoon feeding of her mother by caregivers violated her mother's wish that she not be kept alive by artificial means.

But Justice Bruce Greyall disagreed. He ruled that Margaret Bentley, 82 – despite being unable to speak or recognize family members – still exhibited behaviour that indicated she wanted to be spoon-fed.

However, the family's lawyer says the ruling also sets an "extremely high threshold" for the clarity required in a living will.

"Anyone who has a living will, in light of this decision, should speak with his or her lawyer soon," said Kieran Bridge.

"The precedent it seems to set is a very high threshold for the amount of certainty and clarity that's required in someone's living will. Otherwise the court will say it's just not sufficiently clear there and it can't be implemented."

The case is one of several right-to-die courses currently being heard by B.C. courts.

In a 1991 "Statement of Wishes," Ms. Bentley requested that she not be kept alive by artificial means.

But the judge ruled that because Ms. 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.

"The petitioner has not established that Mrs. Bentley's behavior is a mere reflex and not communication through behavior, which is the only means through which Mrs. Bentley can communicate," read the ruling.

"The finding that Mrs. Bentley is currently capable of making the decision to eat and drink and is communicating her consent through her behaviour means that those providing her with care must continue to offer her assistance with feeding in the form of prompting her with a spoon or glass."

The lawsuit, filed against Fraser Health, the Maplewood Seniors Care Society, and the B.C. government, was brought after a family request to remove Ms. Bentley to a palliative-care facility was denied.

Instead, she stayed at Maplewood, where caretakers refused to stop spoon-feeding her despite the family's wishes.

Mr. Bridge said he wasn't sure whether the family would appeal.

The B.C. Supreme Court recently allowed an appeal in another right-to-die case seeking to overturn Canada's ban on assisted suicide.

Interact with The Globe