In our last article, we introduced the idea of informal mediation as a means toward managing and resolving disputes amongst family members during an individual’s last stages of life (LSL).

From a practical perspective, it is envisioned that a roster of experienced mediators, drawn from both the health care and legal milieus, will be cultivated and deployed as a critical service. The assistance of an informal mediator will be offered both to family members in private, home-based settings (as more individuals are choosing to live out their final days at home) and promoted as a dedicated service to palliative care residents (and their families) in long term care facilities.

The importance of informal mediation services in an LSL context is amplified when considering the alternatives. Currently, when disputes cannot be resolved through agreement (whether these conflicts relate to personal health care matters or financial issues concerning an LSL individual and his or her family members), practically speaking the only options are to march off to court or, where applicable, to commence a proceeding before the Consent and Capacity Board (CCB).

These are not satisfactory alternatives. Court proceedings (and, perhaps to a lesser extent CCB proceedings) are unwieldy, time-consuming, prohibitively expensive, consequently impractical, and, more often than not, emotionally traumatic to the LSL individual and his or her family members.

Both litigation and CCB proceedings are by their very nature adversarial, and often serve to exacerbate, rather than resolve conflicts involving LSL individuals and their family members. Consider also that, particularly in the context of court proceedings which often last for many months, an LSL individual may very well die before a final decision is granted – by a judge with no personal familiarity with the specific intra-family dynamics.

In contrast, informal mediation services can be provided on an expeditious, real-time basis — by experienced mediators who will meet with the LSL individual and his or her family members, become directly and sensitively familiar with the particular issues in dispute and the unique intra-family dynamics, and propose effective, appropriate and time-sensitive pathways toward prompt resolution of these issues.

Brian Belmont is a member of the Professional Advisory Committee with the Baycrest Foundation.