Canadian Court: Family Can’t Sue Nursing Home to Starve Mother to Death

International   |   Alex Schadenberg   |   Feb 4, 2014   |   6:44PM   |   Vancouver, Canada

The BC Supreme Court rendered a significant decision in favour of protecting vulnerable people at risk of significant abuse by way of the withdrawal of fluids and food in the case Bentley v Maplewood Seniors Care Society.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) intervened in the Bentley case and we are pleased with this clear and well thought out decision. We argued that a world-wide consensus recognizes that fluids and food received orally does not constitute medical treatment but rather basic personal care. The court endorsed our submission.

spoonfeedingThe court made clear that normal feeding by spoon is not healthcare but is rather basic personal care under BC Health Care Consent law.

The court reviewed the regime of consent requirements and advance directives and determined that no such directive was applicable in the circumstances of this case. The court further decided that the withholding of fluids and food in these circumstances would represent basic neglect that is prohibited by law.

The court concludes as follows:

1. Mrs. Bentley is capable of making the decision to accept oral nutrition and hydration and is providing consent through her behavior when she accepts nourishment and liquids;
2. The assistance with feeding that she is currently receiving must continue;
3. The provision of oral nutrition and hydration by prompting with a glass or spoon is a form of personal care, not health care within the meaning of the HCCCFA Act;
4. Neither the 1991 Statement of Wishes nor the Second Statement of Wishes constitute a valid representation agreement or advance directive;
5. Even if Mrs. Bentley was found incapable of making the decision to accept oral nutrition and hydration, I am not satisfied that the British Columbia legislature intended to allow reference to previously expressed wishes or substitute decision makers to be relied on to refuse basic personal care that is necessary to preserve life;
6. Withdrawing oral nutrition and hydration for an adult that is not capable of making that decision would constitute neglect within the meaning of the Adult Guardianship Act. Note: Alex Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and you can read his blog here.