As It Happens

Family of B.C. woman with Alzheimer's appeals to uphold living will, and her request to die

Margaret Bentley knew how she wanted to die, or rather, how she didn't want to die: suffering from an "extreme mental or physical disability."
Margaret Bentley (Courtesy of Katherine Hammond)
Margaret Bentley's nursing school graduation photo. Daughter Katherina Hammond on her mother's current condition: "I can't hold her hand anymore, it's clenched, it's claw-like, she's spastic, she's curled up. She's unresponsive." (Katherine Hammond)

Margaret Bentley knew how she wanted to die, or rather, how she didn't want to die: suffering from an "extreme mental or physical disability." In 1991, the former nurse wrote a living will, stipulating that she did not want her life extended, or to be fed or given water should she become extremely disabled. She's now in that state and has been for years, living with Alzheimer's in a nursing home in Abbotsford, B.C.

"My mom has been unable to speak or communicate in any way for a long, long time," Hammond tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "Back when she a beautiful, vibrant, engaging woman, she was carefully planning her death."

Bentley was diagnosed with the disease in 1999.

"[After her diagnosis], she became incredibly concerned and obsessed with what would happen around the end of her life," Hammond continues. "We went over again and again what she wanted and what she didn't want... [we said] that we would honour her wishes, that we would follow the carefully-worded directives she had laid out in her living will."

However, staff at the nursing home refuse to stop feeding her. One of the reasons behind their insistence is that they claim Bentley expresses a desire to eat because she opens her mouth whenever they bring a spoon to her lips.

In 2013, a B.C. Superior Court judge sided with the nursing home.

Bentley's husband and Hammond appealed the case on Wednesday.

"What will happen now is unknown," Hammond says. "It is certainly my hope that mom will be allowed to die, which is what she wants. It's my hope that the Court of Appeal will rule in favour of my mom and her wishes, and that she will be supported medically with compassionate end-of-life sedation and medication and be allowed to go."

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