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MacLean’s Magazine: Weighing in on End-of-Life Decision-Making

In recent issues, MacLean’s magazine reported on a series of town hall meetings hosted by the publication, entitled, “End-of-Life Care: A National Dialogue.”  In the third segment, published in the April 14, 2014 magazine, the series focused on the manner in which people convey their end-of-life wishes.

There is a disparity between people’s understanding of the importance of conveying end-of-life wishes and whether they actually do so.  A 2014 survey found that 96 per cent of Canadians believe it is important to talk to family members about one’s end-of-life wishes, but only 34 per cent had done so, and then even only 13 per cent had put a plan in writing.

But putting one’s plans down in writing is not a simple as writing them down.  The article cites the case of Bentley v. Maplewood Seniors Care Society (which we blogged on here1).  In that decision, Ms. Bentley, who is now in the final stages of Alzheimers had written down her wishes that she be provided “no nourishment and liquids.”  Her family sought the enforcement of the those wishes and went to court for an order that the home in which she resided stop spoonfeeding her.  The court reviewing the document declined to make such an order.  That decision has been appealed.

Mark Handelman, who is firm counsel to Whaley Estate Litigation, notes that there were “formal defects” in Ms. Bentley’s documents.  Mr. Handelman advises preparing these documents, which can carry significant weight, with the assistance of a lawyer.  He also advises talking about the documents with the individuals who will have to make decisions based on them.  Mr. Handelman says: “Most significant is not the document, but the conversation.”

Educating people that death is part of life is part of the ongoing challenge for those who deal with end-of-life decision making.  It is an uncomfortable topic, but an extremely important one.  A 2010 British Medical Journal study showed that where dying individuals have help with advance care planning, their family members experience significantly less stress, anxiety and depression.

The issue of advance care planning is part of a new campaign by the Ontario Bar Association.  April 2014 is the first annual “Make a Power of Attorney Month.”  The campaign underpins the importance of putting one’s wishes in writing with the help of a lawyer so that loved ones can assist when the time comes.

The MacLean’s townhall series and the OBA campaign reflect the pressing nature of end-of-life planning, and are just part of a larger ongoing national dialogue on this difficult but important issue.

1. Link to blog post


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