Category: Elder Law
I recently read an interesting article by Helene Love titled “Seniors on the Stand: Accommodating Older Witnesses in Adversarial Trials”, that explored the intersection of age and its effects on witness testimony in trials. Helene’s article considers whether the legal and procedural rules that have been developed to ensure that only the most reliable evidence is used in a trial may disproportionately be excluding evidence from seniors. The paper assessed the risks associated with aging, as well as the practical and legal issues related to aging witnesses, and offered suggestions to accommodate senior witnesses within our current legal framework. I will summarize some of the key considerations below.
The objective of a trial is to discover the truth. Examinations of witnesses under oath allow the trier of fact to test the reliability of witnesses, making examinations during trial a fundamental aspect of the modern day trial. Interestingly, the basis for requiring live testimony of witnesses dates back to the 16th and 17th century trials by jury, whereby jurors were not prevented from relying on untrustworthy sources of information, and abuses of power were common. In order to enhance the reliability of trials and control the quality of evidence, judges created the requirement for witnesses to provide evidence in person. The reliability of a witness is typically assessed by a judge based on a witness’s ability to observe, recall, and then recount and event in the courtroom.
Reports indicate that within the next 20 years, the number of Canadians aged 65 years or older will double, meaning that there will be more senior citizens involved in the justice system. Given the significant increase in older persons acting as witnesses, there are a number of ways that aging can impact a witness’s ability to provide evidence during a trial.
Some of the risks associated with aging include:
- Attrition – depending on the complexity of a case, it can take months or even years to finally reach a trial date, meaning that there are increased chances that an older witness, particularly those over 80 years old, have an increased chance of dying before having a chance to take the witness stand.
- Changes to the Sensory Organs and the Brain with Age – biological changes to sensory organs and the brain can result in a decrease in perceptual acuity and gaps in memory.
- Mobility Issues – Health Canada reports that by age 75, 29% of men and 38% of women report at least one physical limitation, making it more difficult to attend court in person, particularly if that appearance is extended over a period of time.
- Strokes and Dementia – Individuals aged over 65 are ten times more likely to have a stroke, and individuals who have had a stroke are more than twice as likely to develop dementia. Dementia can involve a range of symptoms, including physical limitations such as limb stiffness to the most commonly known type of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease. Individuals with cognitive impairments would not be competent to testify in a trial.
This begs the question, how can the legal system accommodate senior witnesses while maintaining accuracy and reliability as top priorities in the pursuit of the truth? I will address some of the main solutions proposed in the civil context (although there were a number of great alternatives proposed in the criminal context that I encourage you to read).
- Expedited trial scheduling or proceeding by way of summary trial. Although not discussed in this article, another possibility in Ontario may be to request a case management judge who can determine whether the case should be heard in an expedited manner.
- Obtain witness evidence at an earlier point in time through discoveries, pre-trial examinations, or affidavit evidence to be relied on at a later date.
- Use the principled approach to hearsay. The rule against hearsay states that earlier statements made by others outside of court are presumptively inadmissible because they were not made under oath, in the presence of the trier of fact and/or tested by cross examination. However, hearsay statements can be admitted for their truth if they are sufficiently necessary and reliable, as outlined in the leading Supreme Court of Canada case of R v Khelawon, 2006 SCC 57
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 In the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, 14 women and 6 men were executed on charges of witchcraft based entirely on supernatural visions that indicated the presence of witchcraft, the reliability of which went untested during the trial.
There’s a really good chance that if you live anywhere in the world that is not completely disconnected from the rest of society, you would have heard about COVID-19, and the fact that it has officially reached every single continent (except for Antarctica). The World Health Organization (WHO) has maintained that the containment of COVID-19 must be the top priority for all countries, given the impact it may have on public health, the economy and social and political issues.
Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.
In a statement released on March 4, 2020, the WHO indicated “although COVID-19 presents an acute threat now, it is absolutely essential that countries do not lose this opportunity to strengthen their preparedness systems.”
The value of preparedness is being played out in a Seattle suburb, where COVID-19 has spread to a local nursing home, resulting in a quarantine of residents and staff. In the US, nursing homes are being criticized for being incubators of epidemics, with relaxed infection-control practices and low staffing rates, among other issues. Friends and family of residents in this Seattle facility are in an unenviable position, worrying about the health and safety of their loved ones and considering the gut-wrenching possibility that their loved ones might die alone. To read more about this issue, click here.
With the number of confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 on the rise in Ontario, I wonder how our long-term facilities are preparing to deal with an outbreak should one occur?
In the spirit of prevention, it is important to consider reducing the frequency of visits with our elderly loved ones, and spreading knowledge and information about hand-washing and other preventative measures.
For more information about COVID-19, click the links below:
Government of Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/2019-novel-coronavirus
World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
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Revocation of a Power of Attorney for Personal Care and its impact on substitute decision making under the Health Care Consent Act
Section 20 of the Health Care Consent Act (“HCCA”) provides for a legislative hierarchy of substitute decision makers for persons who have been found incapable with respect to treatment. The hierarchy is as follows:
- The incapable person’s guardian of the person;
- The incapable person’s attorney for personal care;
- The incapable person’s representative appointed by the Consent and Capacity Board;
- The incapable person’s spouse or partner;
- A child or parent of the incapable person, or an agency that replaces the parent’s authority;
- A parent of the person who only has a right of access;
- A brother or sister of the incapable person; and
- Any other relative of the incapable person.
Those in the above list may only give or refuse consent on behalf of the incapable person if they are: at least 16 years of age, are not prohibited by court order, are available, and are willing to assume this responsibility. A person from the above hierarchy may only act as the substitute decision maker with regard to treatment, if there is not a person who also meets these requirements who ranks higher within the hierarchy.
Sections 20(5) and 20(6) of the HCCA sets out that if no one in the above list meets the requirements to make treatment decisions, or, if there are two equally ranking parties who both meet requirements but disagree on the treatment decision, the decision will devolve to the Public Guardian and Trustee (“PGT”).
As is clear by the placement within the above hierarchy, the act of granting a power of attorney for personal care (“POAPC”) holds great weight when it comes to determining substitute decision makers with regard to treatment decisions. However, the significance of the act of revoking a POAPC in relation to the legislative hierarchy is less clear.
For example, it is quite common for a person to grant a POAPC to their spouse or child, however, in revoking the POAPC, the spouse or child could still remain the legal substitute decision maker under the section 20 hierarchy, should there be no other higher ranking individual willing and able to make treatment decisions, and if the grantor fails to execute a new POAPC.
I have located two decisions of the Consent and Capacity Board (the “Board”), which suggests that in such circumstances, the Board will pull language from other sections of the HCCA to circumvent the hierarchy provided under section 20, where it is clear to do so would be in the incapable person’s best interests.
In A(I) Re, Mrs. I.A. had previously appointed her two children as her attorneys for care. However, this POAPC was later revoked, with Mrs. I.A. informing her lawyer she feared her two children would be unable to reach agreements on important health care decisions. Two distant relatives were instead appointed pursuant to a new POAPC. However, when Mrs. I.A. lost capacity, and a treatment decision needed to be made, the distant relatives felt they were not best suited to make such a decision.
Both children applied to act as Mrs. I.A.’s representative under s. 33 of the HCCA. In coming to its decision the Board accepted that Mrs. I.A.’s overt act of revoking the POAPC that appointed her children was a prior expressed relevant value and belief, however, this did not impact the fact that both children still qualified as decision makers under the section 20 hierarchy. The Board ultimately determined that it was not in Mrs. I.A.’s best interests to have her children act as decision makers, and concluded they could not agree, such that the decision devolved to the PGT.
In D(D) Re, this issue again arose, where the incapable person, D.D. (prior to becoming incapable) granted a POAPC to her husband, later revoking the POAPC when she believed that her husband would not act in her best interests. Because a new POAPC was never executed, the husband remained the legal decision maker under section 20. D.D.’s daughter, J.R., brought an application to the Board to act as her representative. In coming to its conclusion, the Board noted that it was clear that D.D. had not understood that by revoking the POAPC, her husband would remain the decision maker under the HCCA hierarchy, and that it was equally clear her intention had been to remove her husband as the legal decision maker. Therefore, to circumvent the hierarchy, the Board turned to a best interests analysis and ultimately appointed D.D.’s daughter as her decision maker.
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For a related discussion on consent to treatment and the HCCA, click here.
Medical Assistance in Dying: Breaking down Bill C-7 and the Federal Government’s Proposed Amendments
At the end of January, my colleague, Nick Esterbauer, posted a blog series on recent developments in medical assistance in dying (MAID), with a particular focus on the September, 2019 decision of the Quebec Superior Court of Justice.
In Truchon c Procuruer général du Canada, the court declared sections of the federal and Quebec laws on medically-assisted dying, unconstitutional. The court took specific concern with the Criminal Code requirement that a natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” in order to be eligible for assisted death.
As discussed in Nick’s previous blog, rather than appeal the decision, the federal government announced that it would be proposing legislative amendments.
Those proposals were introduced by way of Bill C-7 to the House of Commons on February 24, 2020. In order to provide for assisted deaths where a natural death is not “reasonably foreseeable,” the Bill proposes the following changes and framework:
- two independent practitioners must confirm that all eligibility criteria is met, and, one of the two practitioners must have expertise in the condition causing the patient’s suffering;
- the person must be informed of, and offered consultations on all counselling, mental health, and disability supports, including community services and palliative care available to them; and
- the two practitioners must agree that the person requesting MAID has “appropriately considered” their options.
The Bill also proposes the following changes:
- The written request (whether the death is reasonably foreseeable or not), need be witnessed by one, rather than two people, which would now (if the Bill is passed) include those directly involved in providing health care services or personal care to the person making the request (except for those health care workers who will be providing the medical assistance in dying to the person, or who have provided an opinion regarding the eligibility criteria);
- The reflection period, previously 10-days in length, will be removed in relation to cases where death is reasonably foreseeable. Where natural death is not reasonably foreseeable, the Bill proposes a 90-day period of assessment (which can be shortened if the person’s loss of capacity is deemed imminent);
- In cases where death is reasonably foreseeable, patients would be able to waive the requirement to consent immediately before the procedure, if consent is given in advance, the procedure has been scheduled, and the person is informed that they may not be able to provide consent at the time of the procedure. In cases where death is not reasonably foreseeable, those patients will still need to confirm consent in order to receive the procedure;
- The Bill also seeks to clarify the information pharmacists (and pharmacist technicians) have to provide when dispensing a substance for an assisted death, as well as to expand the data collected by medical practitioners, those responsible for preliminary assessments regarding the patients eligibility, and pharmacists/technicians.
Parliamentary review of the Bill is scheduled to occur in June of this year. More information on medical assistance in dying can be found on the Government of Canada’s webpage here. For a discussion on the possible impact MAID may have on a will challenge, click here.
Thanks for reading!
Other blogs that may be of interest:
In many respects the law of Quebec differs from that of other provinces. In terms of medical assistance in dying (MAID), however, a September 2019 decision of the Quebec Superior Court of Justice has the potential to spark change in legislation throughout the country.
In Truchon c Procureur général du Canada, 2019 QCCS 3792, the Court considered the constitutional validity of the requirement that the natural death of individuals accessing MAID be reasonably foreseeable. The applicants had been declared ineligible for MAID on the basis that their deaths were not considered to be reasonably foreseeable. The first applicant suffered from cerebral palsy and his condition had deteriorated significantly in 2012, when he became totally paralyzed, preventing him engaging in activities that he had previously enjoyed. The second applicant suffered from paralysis and severe scoliosis, with a significant change in her health in 1992 when she was diagnosed with degenerative muscular post-polio syndrome. Both applicants lived in constant pain with a poor prognosis of continued suffering and deterioration, but had been denied access to MAID on the basis that their natural deaths were not reasonably foreseeable and decided to seek the Court’s assistance.
The Court first reviewed the issue of whether the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement violated the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While the restriction was noted to have the potential effect of prolonging the lives of some individuals who would otherwise request MAID, it was also considered to have the risk of encouraging some patients “to end things prematurely, and often in a degrading or violent manner, before being in mortal agony, or having completely lost their dignity or being in the final stage of life.” Due to the exposure of some Canadians seeking MAID to (1) a higher risk of death and (2) physical and psychological pain, “depriv[ing] them of the opportunity to make a fundamental decision that respects their personal dignity and integrity”, the reasonably foreseeable death requirement was ruled to infringe the right to life, liberty, and security under Section 7 of the Charter.
Next, the Court considered whether the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement violated the right to equality under Section 15 of the Charter. The Court found the applicants were prevented from accessing MAID on the basis of the nature of their disabilities, which notwithstanding being “serious and incurable” did not render death reasonably foreseeable, and that as a result the first applicant in particular was “deprived of the exercise of these choices essential to his dignity as a human being due to his personal characteristics that the challenged provision does not consider. He can neither commit suicide by a method of his own choosing nor legally request this assistance.”
The infringement of the applicants’ fundamental rights under Sections 7 and 15 of the Charter was not considered to be justified by Section 1 and the Court, accordingly, declared these provisions of Quebec and Canadian MAID laws unconstitutional. The declaration of constitutional invalidity of the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement for accessing MAID was suspended for six months to provide an opportunity to address amendments to provincial and federal legislation.
Quebec has recently announced that it now intends to eliminate the parts of its MAID legislation that have been declared unconstitutional. Prime Minister Trudeau has advised that the government will be updating federal legislation to reflect the Truchon decision prior to March 11, 2020, when the judgment will take effect. Precisely how Canada and Ontario will amend the relevant provisions of MAID legislation has yet to be determined.
As yesterday’s blog mentioned, there has been recent scrutiny regarding the restrictive approach in respect of access to MAID and this decision out of Quebec and corresponding updates to the law may represent an important first step in the right direction in enhancing accessibility.
Thank you for reading,
Our blog has previously covered the developments in medical assistance in dying (MAID) since the prohibition against MAID ended in Canada in 2016.
Almost 230 thousand Canadians responded to a recent government survey on MAID, making it the largest public consultation in Canadian history. Although the complete survey results have yet to be released, respondents are reported to have shown great support for making it easier for Canadians to access MAID.
As MAID has gained recognition throughout the country, many have fought for increased accessibility and the expansion of eligibility criteria. Specifically, some believe that the criteria are too restrictive in excluding (1) individuals whose deaths are not imminent, and (2) those who cannot consent to receive MAID at the time at which it is administered. Because recipients of MAID are required to provide consent personally immediately prior to its administration (rather than in advance), health problems that may also impact mental capacity can render some of them ineligible.
In some parts of the country, MAID is already accessed at significant levels. In Vancouver Island, with the greatest access in Canada to MAID per capita, MAID accounted for over six percent of all deaths in 2019.
Given the clear engagement of Canadians regarding the issue of enhancing access to MAID, it will be interesting to see how legislation regarding MAID may be updated over time to address the potential introduction of advanced consent and/or the authority of substitute decision-makers to confirm consent.
Thank you for reading,
Other blog posts that may be of interest:
Estate planning lawyers have both the privilege and the responsibility of providing guidance and advice to clients while they are at key stages in their lives. A good lawyer’s role involves turning a client’s mind to the future and planning for turbulent times before they arise. As one grows old and the risk of serious illness increases, it is important to consider difficult medical decisions that will need to be made, and the impact those decisions might have on your loved ones. Lawyers can help in this preparation, for example with naming a substitute decision-maker who can help direct doctors when the patient becomes incapable, as well as by drafting advanced care directives that lay out the wishes of the patient regarding treatment of serious illness and the extent that life-prolonging measures should be used. While such “advanced care directives” have no legal standing in Ontario, they are still important in that they can provide crucial guidance to decision-makers and medical practitioners when drafted correctly. On the other hand, they could be confusing to decision-makers and hinder medical professionals when drafted in an inflexible manner.
The Lawyer’s Role
Firstly, the language of these directives should be directed to the patient’s decision-maker, and not to the medical practitioner. They should be drafted as advice and guidance to the decision-maker, and not as rigid rules that a medical professional might feel obligated (but not legally compelled) to follow. This is crucial as any lawyer drafting such a document should appreciate the “shared decision-making” model between patient and doctor. Important medical decisions are not made in a vacuum and the availability of different treatment options as well as the weight of their risks and benefits can vary with changing circumstances. It is difficult for a rigid legal document to accommodate the nuances of such a complex situation, but one that supports and guides a decision-maker in their conversations with medical professionals can be extremely valuable. With skilful drafting, the two-way decision-making process between doctor and substitute decision-maker can be facilitated, instead of hindered.
The drafting of advanced care directives should be centered around the values and preferences of the patient as opposed to specific treatment options. The American Bar Association advises that there should not be a focus on specific clinical intervention for “distant hypothetical situation” but rather on the patient’s “values, goals, and priorities in the event of worsening health”.
Finally, the planning process for important medical decisions regarding serious illness requires input from both doctors and lawyers to ensure treatment directions can be drafted with the nuance required for complex medical situations. The ABA suggests that “lawyers and health professionals should aim for greater coordination of advance care planning efforts”, and such collaboration will help clients and decision-makers be as prepared as possible to make informed decisions.
The Client’s Role
When it comes to what clients can do, while preparing a legal document is an important step, it should be reinforced by candid conversations with decision-makers, family, and friends. This significantly eases the burden on decision-makers, as they can carry out their role in stressful situations with the peace of mind that they are not second-guessing their loved one’s wishes when it comes to treatment.
Another way clients and their decision-makers can prepare for the future is by consulting resources that facilitate the planning process. An example of such a resource is planwellguide.com, which provides guidance on important issues from choosing a substitute decision-maker, to elaborating on the pros and cons of different care options, to specific factors to consider when making an advanced care plan.
A Gift of Great Value
While the lawyer’s skill in drafting is important to making an effective plan, a lawyer’s role can extend past legal documents and into transmitting a forward-thinking approach to clients. This approach requires careful consideration and reflection on the part of the client regarding their values and priorities when faced with serious illness, as well as having frank conversations with loved ones. While having these types of conversations may not be the most merry activity over the holiday period, giving a loved one that peace of mind is a gift of immeasurable value.
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Ian Hull and Sean Hess
Recently, Marketplace has released the results of an investigation into seniors’ homes using trespass orders to ban family members from visiting. The investigation reviewed over a dozen cases across Canada where family members believe they were banned from visiting their loved ones by retirement homes and long-term care homes as a method of silencing them from advocating on behalf of their loved ones.
In Ontario, one’s entry to a premises can be prohibited through the issuance of a notice under the Trespass to Property Act.
Marketplace spoke with counsel at the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (“ACE”) in Toronto, who explained that with regard to retirement homes in Ontario, case law has established that residents who pay to live on the property have a right to receive visitors they choose, without interference.
With regard to long-term care, the Long-Term Care Homes Act (the “Act”) provides residents with statutory protection, setting out that “[e]very resident has the right to communicate in confidence, receive visitors of his or her choice and consult in private with any person without interference.” This particular protection can be located at section 3(14) of the Act, which forms part of the Residents’ Bill of Rights (the “Bill of Rights”). The Act also provides for a reporting and complaints procedure set out from sections 21 to 28.
The Bill of Rights statutorily mandates licensed care homes under the Act (“licensees”) to fulfill certain duties and obligations to their residents, including unhindered visitation and communication with family members and friends, the right to be protected from abuse, the right to exercise the rights of a citizen, and the right to be treated with courtesy, respect and in a manner that fully recognizes the residents’ individuality and respects their dignity.
Importantly, section 3(3) of the Act sets out that a resident may enforce the Bill of Rights against the long-term care home “as though the resident and the licensee had entered into a contract under which the licensee had agreed to fully respect and promote all of the rights set out in the Residents’ Bill of Rights.” While I have been unable to locate a reported decision where a resident (or a litigation guardian of a resident) has attempted to enforce the Bill of Rights vis-a-vis section 3(3), arguably, a resident pursuing such enforcement would have access to relief available in any other breach of contract case, including the specific performance of the contract and monetary damages.
In response to the Marketplace investigation, Ontario MPPs have called for a full investigation into the use of trespass orders against visitors and family members in retirement homes.
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On December 4, 2019, the Economic and Community Development Committee considered a proposal to improve senior services and long-term care in the city of Toronto, which is set to be considered by City Council on December 17, 2019.
The proposal is based on a Report from the Interim General Manager, Seniors Services and Long-Term Care which recommends ways to improve life for residents in long-term care facilities. The proposal sheds light on certain shortcomings of the current institutional model of long-term care facilities. Under the current system, after tending to basic care needs such as eating, bathing, and safety, and ensuring that they have met government mandated reporting requirements, staff are left with little free time. As a result, residents spend the majority of their days alone, without any form of genuine human interaction or purpose.
The proposal will revamp and hopefully reinvigorate the city’s 10 long term care homes by shifting the model of care to one that is emotion-centred. The key components of an emotion-centred approach to care would see increased staffing (with up to 281 new staff by 2025), more hours of care per resident per day, increased funding from the provincial government, and improved bedding.
More importantly, an emotion-centred approach emphasizes the emotional needs of residents, understanding that human connection leads to enjoyment of life. The new approach is based wholly and substantively on an understanding of ageing, equity, diversity and intersectionality.
If adopted, the city of Toronto will be the first to integrate diversity, inclusion and equity directly and comprehensively into an emotion-centred approach to care framework.
If you are interested in learning more, read this article from the Toronto Star. I also recommend reading this 2018 Toronto Star series called “The Fix” about a bold initiative to change care in a dementia unit in a Peel nursing home.
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Earlier this year, Ian M. Hull, Suzana Popovic-Montag, and I were pleased to co-author the Canada Chapter of the 2019 Chambers & Partners Global Private Wealth Guide for the third consecutive year.
The guide provides an overview of the law as it relates to a number of issues relevant to financial planning and estate planning in jurisdictions throughout the world. Specifically, the following topics are covered (among others):
- tax regimes;
- succession laws;
- laws relating to the transfer of digital assets and other assets;
- family business planning;
- wealth disputes;
- elder law; and
- obligations of fiduciaries.
With chapters summarizing the state of the law and related trends in 34 countries, including the United Kingdom, United States, Switzerland, France, and Israel, the guide can be a great resource to be used as a starting point when assisting clients who have assets (or are beneficiaries of assets) in other jurisdictions.
A complete electronic copy of the 2019 Chambers & Partners Global Private Wealth Guide is available here: https://practiceguides.chambers.com/practice-guides/private-wealth-2019. The online version includes a “compare locations” feature, which allows readers to quickly review differences between two or more jurisdictions.
Thank you for reading.