December 24th 2011

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: A reflection on Christmas

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why Abbott will win the next election

MARRIAGE: Mature leadership needed in emotional marriage debate

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Behind the trade-induced global financial crisis

RESOURCES: Building a better future without a carbon tax

AFRICA: How free enterprise is transforming Africa

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Presidential elections confirm Taiwan's vibrant democracy

EUTHANASIA I: The ever-worsening problem of elder abuse

EUTHANASIA II: Netherlands: "Grim reaper on wheels" mobile death squads

OPINION: The moral causes of Europe's predicament

BOOK REVIEW Gallipoli, the Somme, then German captivity

BOOK REVIEW A Christian-themed Viking epic

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The ever-worsening problem of elder abuse

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, December 24, 2011

Whenever I speak on the subject of euthanasia and assisted suicide, one of the issues I always highlight is 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 ageing sectors and across the community, generally.

Elder abuse — which is 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 and psychological and physical abuse.

The incidence of elder abuse is grossly under-reported. The victims often feel they have no right to complain and do not want to see a relative get into trouble, or else, simply, they do not know where to turn for help.

In 2009, the Public Trustee of Queensland said that cases of elder abuse had been increasing by 20 per cent each year, and estimated that every year 27,000 elderly Queenslanders were victims of theft or physical or emotional abuse.

Lillian Jeter — until recently a director of Australia’s Elder Abuse Prevention Association (EAPA) — has estimated that there are a minimum of 100,000 cases in Australia each year where the elderly have been victims of manipulation and control, intimidation and fear.

One has to ask the obvious question: What form could elder abuse take if euthanasia and assisted suicide were ever made legally available in Australia?

I have heard and read pro-euthanasia commentators dismiss these concerns. Either they’re living in some fantasy world, where elder abuse never happens, or else they’re simply ignoring the growing evidence of this problem and refusing to subject their dubious agenda to the light of reason.

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 not unreasonable to fear that the mistreated elderly person’s very life could be in jeopardy.

This is more than mere theoretical conjecture. Such things happen in real life, as South Australians were recently reminded.

Three years ago, a resident of Adelaide’s southern suburbs, Vonne McGlynn, aged 82 and living alone, was savagely bashed, her body dismembered and her remains dumped in a nearby creek.

In August this year, Angelika Gavare, 35, who had lived nearby and befriended McGlynn, was found guilty of her murder. Evidence against Gavare revealed how she intended to dispose of Vonne McGlynn’s assets, including the house, for her own personal gain.

This was a crude, clumsy and vicious attack and, it must be said, one that was always likely to be found out. But once euthanasia and assisted suicide are legalised, opportunities for abuse increase and the chances of detection decrease.

How difficult would it be to persuade an elderly relative over time that they would be better off dead? Perhaps, for someone routinely abused and with little to live for, death might seem to be a relief. Who knows?

The risk of this ultimate kind of elder abuse cannot be dismissed. We can, and should, demand that all sorts of protections should be put in place in nursing homes and aged care facilities, and that help lines and advocates should be provided for the aged.

However, it would be reckless in the extreme to provide all this valuable support if, at the same time, we created further opportunities for elder abuse with such irreversible consequences.

Paul Russell is director of the national network, HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International. 

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