Congratulations to the Tasmanian Government for their announcements this week of an initiative to fight Elder Abuse in the island state. The 12 month project funded by the State Government to the tune of $120,000 will attempt to gauge the extent of the problem.
This mirrors similar concerns being raised in New Zealand where Age Concern, Marlborough (northern part of the South Island) is adding a specialized staff member to its ranks fighting elder abuse after receiving more than 100 calls relating to the issue last year. Marlborough community support worker, Helen North said that elder abuse was “like the elephant in the room, nobody wants to talk about it.”
Ms North gave a comprehensive definition of the problem: Elder abuse wasn't just physical, but could involve taking financial advantage of an older person, not listening and over-riding their choices, threats of abandonment and taking over their property, she said.
Council for the Aging Tasmania, Sue Leitch said: "Older people tend to be more vulnerable because of their age. They feel more pressures, especially from a family member. They often feel guilt and sense of obligation which is then played on,'' she said. "They are more prone to social isolation [and] often their limited social contact might be with someone who is putting them under pressure.''
It is estimated that between 3 and 5% of the population experience some form of elder abuse. In Tasmania this would amount to between 2520 and 4200 cases. In New Zealand this would amount to between 133,230 and 222,050 cases of abuse. Tasmanian MP, Jacqui Petrusma observed that the phrase ‘’tip of the iceberg’’ is applicable to elder abuse. She was alluding to the fact that elder abuse is often a hidden crime where the abused elders feel reluctant to complain, either out of fear or out of embarrassment.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are recipes for elder abuse. It is not difficult to imagine that the kind of emotional abuse experienced by an elderly person at the instigation of a relative might lead to a pressured request to die (and where such a death might even be seen by the abused as a form of relief.
It is incumbent on both Premier Giddings in Tasmania and Prime Minister Key in New Zealand to explain how they will protect elderly citizens from abuse if their parliaments ever pass euthanasia & assisted suicide legislation. The reality is that they can’t – such legislation would effectively abandon some elderly to abuse – and who would ever know?
Paul Russell writes from South Australia. This post has been republished, with permission from Hope, a national network working against euthanasia and assisted suicide. Paul is its director.