Saturday, June 15, 2024

Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

By Diane Coleman 

Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. According to the National Council On Aging:

Approximately one in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. Some estimates range as high as five million elders who are abused each year. One study estimated that only one in 24 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.

… In almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. Two thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.

Despite such a high prevalence, assisted suicide laws and their proponents rarely if ever address or bring up the topic. The fact that various forms of elder abuse – physical, emotional, financial – could cause an elder to want to die doesn’t seem to raise concerns. At best, they assign doctors the role of identifying coercion or abuse and, very rarely, referring the patient to psychological professionals to assess decisional capacity.

A few recent assisted suicide laws or bills also say that the doctor should meet with the patient alone to discuss potential coercion, pressure or abuse, but will that really work? How good are doctors at detecting abuse? According to an article in American Family Physician:

Despite [the] expected increased demand for expertise, physicians generally lack training, experience, education, and adequate guidelines for the assessment and management of abuse. Less than 2% of reports of elder abuse and neglect to state APS agencies come from physicians.

So purported protections against assisted suicide being granted in situations involving coercion and abuse are really just window dressing, form without substance. In practical terms, these laws only protect a prescriber who has little or no ability to protect the patient.