Introduction

Bentley Case Summary

A summary of the Bentley court case in British Columbia

Bentley Case Summary

Margot Bentley was an elderly woman – a former nurse – living at a nursing home operated by Fraser Health in Abbotsford, British Columbia.  She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1999.  In 1991, Ms. Bentley signed a “statement of wishes” saying she would not want to “be kept alive by artificial means or ‘heroic measures’”, or receive “nourishment or liquids, [1]” if she reached an advanced stage of dementia.

Ms. Bentley was spoon-fed by the nursing home staff as her illness progressed.  Her family claimed she was completely unresponsive, and that opening her mouth to take food and swallow were only reflexes. However, Ms. Bentley demonstrated a preference for sweet foods; she was more likely to open her mouth for desserts than main courses.  She also refused treatment by a dental hygienist.

Ms. Bentley’s husband and daughter brought a suit against Fraser Health and the BC government in August of 2013. They hoped to make the nursing home comply with their loved one’s 20-year-old statement of wishes by ceasing to feed her.  However, the nursing home and government said that the institution had a duty to provide “personal care” – including food.

Anti-euthanasia advocates noted that someone with an advanced directive has the ability and right to change their mind about its contents. Without another means of communication, eating was the best way for Ms. Bentley to state her current wishes. The court judgment agreed, concluding that the woman is capable of communicating “through her behavior when she accepts nourishment and liquids.”

Ms. Bentley died in November of 2016.

[1] Bentley v. Maplewood Seniors Care Society, 2014 BCSC 165, https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcsc/doc/2014/2014bcsc165/2014bcsc165.html