Alleges Catholic facility removed food and water to hasten deathBy David Curtin
The Interim

The family of a 94-year-old woman from Windsor, Ont. is suing a local Catholic nursing home for, among other things, trying to starve the woman to death.

In a 14-page Statement of Claim obtained by The Interim, Florence LaDouceur’s daughters are suing Villa Maria Home for the Aged for $1.9 million. The lawsuit, filed in December, seeks damages for the way the nursing home treated Mrs. LaDouceur during the period of Oct. 26, 1998 to Mar. 14, 1999.

Mrs. LaDouceur died of natural causes Jan. 14, 2000, shortly after the suit was launched.

The plaintiffs say Mrs. LaDouceur was generally in good health, and was “completely coherent and articulate” when she first entered the nursing home. She was placed in the care of Villa Maria because she had fallen and cracked several ribs, and because it was felt the facility would afford her a more active social life and better access to church services.

The family says that when Mrs. LaDouceur entered the nursing home she weighed 88 pounds, but that when she left four and a half months later, she weighed only 55. They also allege that in the meantime, staff at Villa Maria withdrew food and water from Mrs. LaDouceur even though she was capable of receiving and benefitting from nutrition and hydration, without consulting or obtaining the permission of her family.

In the Statement of Claim, Mrs. LaDouceur’s daughter, Eileen Warren, is said to have visited her mother each day from Mar. 11 to Mar. 14, 1999. On Mar. 11 and 12, Mrs. LaDouceur was found to be “doing well” and “recognizing people.” On Mar. 13, Mrs. Warren was told that her mother’s condition had deteriorated. Mrs. Warren stayed with her mother all day, and claims no one on staff brought her mother anything to eat or drink.

The suit alleges that when Mrs. Warren undertook to feed her mother herself, nursing home staff became upset, and told her that residents in Mrs. LaDouceur’s situation do not like to eat.

Mrs. Warren visited her mother again on Mar. 14 and found her in a wet diaper and in severe pain. She says her mother still had not been fed, and that she was told by staff not to feed her or give her anything to drink, since it had been decided that Mrs. LaDouceur should be “dehydrated.” A staff member is said to have given Mrs. Warren a one-page article, “Benefits of dehydration in terminally-ill patients,” indicating this course of action was intended to let Mrs. LaDouceur die peacefully.

At this point, the family had Mrs. LaDouceur moved to the adjoining Hotel Dieu hospital. She was admitted suffering from dehydration and pneumonia. She had not eaten for three days, the suit alleges.

Mrs. LaDouceur was discharged from the hospital on Mar. 22, 1999, and was in the care of family members from then until her death three weeks ago. The plaintiffs are claiming that she suffered “serious and permanent injuries,” including brain damage and depression, as a result of the way she was treated at Villa Maria.

“She has been unable to carry on the normal tasks of living and has lost the enjoyment of life,” the Statement of Claim reads.

Villa Maria spokesman Tim Halford told The Interim he could not comment on the details of the case, but said the institution takes such matters seriously and is determined to be accountable to the public.