Elder Abuse is a Clear Consequence When Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Are Legalized

Opinion   |   Paul Russell   |   Jun 15, 2017   |   5:16PM   |   Washington, DC

June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Timed to coincide with this international day, the Australian Law Reform Commission has released its final report into a long-running inquiry on Elder Abuse and the Law.

Running to 432 pages, the report takes a comprehensive look at the legal landscape across Australia and argues for a comprehensive nation-wide approach to tackling Elder Abuse. While looking mainly at the law, it also looks at abuse in Aged Care settings and argues for an overhaul of staffing, staff training, recruitment and mandatory reporting type structures to protect people.

The report also looks at training for lawyers and medical professionals.

What is elder abuse?

The World Health Organisation describes Elder Abuse as: ‘a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person’

It is recognized to ‘take various forms, such as physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. The World Health Organization has estimated that the prevalence rate of elder abuse in high-or middle-income countries ranges from 2% to 14% of people usually defined as ‘over the age of 60 or 65 years’.

The WHO also noted that research in other predominantly high-income countries has found ‘wide variation in rates of abuse in the preceding 12 months among adults aged over 60 years, ranging from 0.8% in Spain and 2.6% in the United Kingdom to upwards of 18% in Israel, 23.8% in Austria and 32% in Belgium’.

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Whether there is a connection between the extremely high rate of Elder Abuse in Belgium and the existence of their euthanasia regime can only be guessed at, though intuitively one could easily develop a ‘best guess’ argument based on culture alone.

The report notes that ‘vulnerability’ to such abuse is not necessarily related to the age of the person. However, the effects of aging, broadly understood, can make our elders vulnerable to such abuse. There is also a connection to disability as noted in the report:

“While older people should not be considered vulnerable merely because of their age, some factors commonly associated with age can make certain older people more vulnerable to abuse. Disability, for example, is more common among older people. More than 80% of people aged 85 years or over have some disability. While fewer than one in 20 Australians under 55 years have ‘severe or profound core activity limitations’, almost one-third of people aged 75 years or over have such limitations.” The authors go on to add: “Vulnerability does not only stem from intrinsic factors such as health, but also from social or structural factors, like isolation and community attitudes such as ageism. All of these factors contribute to elder abuse.”

We have discussed ageism before in terms of the dominant meme that elderly people are ‘burdens’. Similar observations can be made in respect to ‘ableism’ and disability.

By way of explanation – a simple anecdote:

Dr. Kevin Fitzpatrick OBE and I shared a podium in Ireland a few years ago. Kevin became a paraplegic after an incident 40 years previous. He asked the audience to imagine that he and I separately visit our doctor; both of us displaying suicidal tendencies. Kevin observed that, in my case, I would be offered all sorts of support and interventions under suicide prevention strategies. In his case (as had been his experience) he said that the doctor would say that they understood why he wanted to kill himself because he had such a difficult life.

As Liz Carr recently observed, treating each of us differently based on disability is scary in terms of assisted suicide and euthanasia and is one of the reasons why many people living with disability do not want such laws. They already experience discrimination in medical care and recognise the potential that such discrimination will also be present in discussions on this subject.

LifeNews Note: Based in Australia, Paul Russell is a leading campaigner against euthanasia.