Making a plan for the future is always a good idea. Recent news coverage of BC Alzheimer’s patient Margot Bentley and the Court of Appeal ruling on the effectiveness of her so-called “living will” serve to highlight the importance of taking care to make effective personal planning agreements in anticipation of the onset of degenerative disease.

Although this topic is not a cheerful one to discuss with your lawyer, it is important that you make a plan that protects your dignity, accurately and effectively reflects your wishes with respect to end-of-life care and provides support to your loved ones. For interested parties, J. Christopher Meyer has created a helpful video that explains the basic components of an estate plan that should be considered.

The Margot Bentley Case

Margot Bentley is an 83-year-old former nurse living with advanced Alzheimer’s disease in an Abbotsford care home. For the last few years, Ms. Bentley has been kept alive through spoon feeding and other support provided by her caretakers in this home. This care is controversial because it is proffered despite the fact that Margot very clearly expressed her wishes in a 1991 document – which her family refers to as a “living will” – that she would prefer not to receive nourishment or liquids in the event that she was suffering from an extreme physical or mental disability. Through her many years of nursing experience, Ms. Bentley was well acquainted with the symptoms and impact of Alzheimer’s disease on quality of life. Further, her family argues, because of this knowledge she deliberately took steps to ensure that she did not end up in precisely the situation she currently finds herself.

Margot’s family claimed that the Fraser Health Authority was ignoring Margot’s own express wishes, to be allowed to die with dignity. However, despite the wishes of Margot’s family and the existence of Margot’s 1991 “living will”, on Feb. 3, 2014, the BC Court of Appeal ruled that since Bentley was accepting food and water from caregivers she was showing a desire to live that superceded the wishes expressed in the 1991 “living will”.

Living Wills and Representation Agreements

It’s important to note that living wills – documents that a person can use to make known his or her wishes regarding prolonging medical treatments – do not technically exist in British Columbia. Instead, decisions regarding medical care during periods of incapacity or neurological decline are addressed in the Representation Agreement Act. Specifically, under Section 9(3) of the Provincial Act, a representative can be provided with the the right to give or refuse consent to health care necessary to preserve the life of a person they are representing.

Had Margot and her family created an adequately structured representation agreement back in 1991, it’s possible that they could have avoided this tragic situation all together.

The Margot Bentley cases raises fundamental questions about the right to die with dignity and the need to protect vulnerable people from being mistreated or harmed. The law in this area is complex and evolving. This makes it even more important that you consult with a lawyer who can advise you on the most effective way to ensure your wishes about your own end-of-life plan are fully respected.

For information about the different ways that you can make effective end-of-live plans and protect your and your family’s future, please contact our Wills and Estates Group.