Whenever I speak on the subject of euthanasia & assisted suicide, one of my main points is always the issue of Elder Abuse.
Elder Abuse has been called the 'crime of the 21st century' and is rightly the focus of significant concern in the welfare and aging sectors and across the community, generally.
Elder Abuse, mostly, but not exclusively, committed by relatives of the aged person, is most often for financial gain. Raiding bank accounts or disposing of assets without permission can also be accompanied by coercion, psychological and physical abuse.
The incidence of Elder Abuse is grossly under-reported, the victims often feeling that they have no right to complain, that they do not want to see a relative get into trouble or, simply, that they do not know where to turn for help.
In 2009 the Queensland Public Trustee said that cases of Elder Abuse had been increasing by 20% each year, estimating that at that time 27,000 elderly Queenslanders were victims of theft or physical or emotional abuse every year.
Director of The Elder Abuse Prevention Association, Lilian Jeter, estimated that there are a minimum of 100,000 cases in Australia each year with evidence of manipulation and control, intimidation and fear.
I ask a most reasonable question: What is likely to happen if euthanasia & assisted suicide is ever legally available in Australia in relation to Elder Abuse?
I have heard and read pro-euthanasia commentators dismiss these concerns. Either they're living in some Utopian dream-world or they simply have no answer to a growing and real problem that shines the light of reason on their dubious agenda.
If someone is manipulating an older person and controlling them to such a degree that they feel powerless to defend themselves and their property, then it is more than simply a theoretic observation to conclude that such contempt for that person could place their very lives in jeopardy.
In December 2008, aged and living alone, Adelaide Southern-Suburbs resident, Vonne McGlynn was savagely bashed, dismembered and her body dumped in a nearby creek.
In August this year, Angelika Gavare, who had lived nearby and who had befriended McGlynn, was found guilty of her murder. Evidence against Gavare told of how she intended to dispose of Vonne McGlynn's assets, including the house, for her own gain.
This was a crude, clumsy and vicious attack and, it must be said, one that was always likely to be found out. But with legal euthanasia & assisted suicide the opportunity for abuse increases and the chance of detection decreases.
How difficult would it be to convince an elderly relative over time that they really did want to die? Perhaps death to someone routinely abused with little to live for might seem to them to be a relief. Who knows?
The risk of the ultimate in Elder Abuse cannot be dismissed. We can, and should, have all sorts of protections in place in nursing homes and aged care facilities and we need to provide help lines and advocates for the aged. But it would be reckless in the extreme to provide all this valuable support if, at the same time, we created further opportunities for abuse with such grave consequences.
This article was first published on the HOPE blog.
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Paul is also Vice Chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition