The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that Margot Bentley, 83, who has dementia, is consenting to being given food and water when she accepts it by a caregiver holding a spoon or glass to her lips. In doing so, the court upheld a ruling the Supreme Court of B.C. made last year.
Bentley, a long-time nurse, did not want a lingering, lonely death like many of her patients, and so she wrote in a living will in 1991 that when her time came she didn't want to be kept alive. Her family wanted to honour those wishes, but the Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 3, 2014, that since Bentley was accepting food she was showing a desire to live.
In the appeal, the petitioners argued that "prompting" Bentley to eat or drink constituted battery. According to the court's decision today, because Maplewood Seniors Care Society doesn't go further than placing a spoon or glass to Bentley's lips their actions fall within the scope of Bentley giving her consent.
Reaction to ruling
Dr. Will Johnston, chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition B.C., said his group is relieved that spoon feeding has been classified as personal care as opposed to health care.
"This means that people who are receiving this kind of basic care will not be at risk of being intentionally starved or mistreated in any way in regard to their nourishment," Johnston said.
"It's true that many years ago Mrs. Bentley expressed her alarm at the thought of being severely disabled, but should she not have the right to change her mind," Johnston asked. "Although her mind is at this time impaired by dementia, what evidence we have is that she accepts foods, shows food preferences and stops eating when she is full."
He said calling this ordinary level of care battery could place others at risk.
Dying With Dignity Canada, a charity to help people with end-of-life options, was disappointed with the ruling.
"I think it's heartbreaking that Mrs. Bentley's wishes will not be respected," said Wanda Morris, CEO of the charity.
"If she was in a different province, or care facility she may well have had a different outcome," Morris said.