“Even if a few grannies get bullied into [assisted suicide], isn’t that the price worth paying for all the people who could die with dignity?”
Henry Marsh, British Neurosurgeon
National Right to Life
June 15 was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Timed to coincide with this international day, the Australian Law Reform Commission 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 Organization 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.’
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.”National Right to Life continues