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November 22, 2010

Senate Debate - Elder Abuse (AUSTRALIA)

Senate debates

17 November 2010

Elder Abuse
By Helen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party)

I am sure that senators know the scope of the problem that we confront with child abuse. In 2008-09 the Australian Institute of Family Studies indicated that there were 339,454 suspected cases of child abuse and neglect—let alone the numerous unreported occasions. I have twice previously risen to speak in this place about abuse at the other end of the age spectrum: elder abuse. As the Australian government’s seniors website states, ‘Elder abuse and neglect receives less attention than child abuse.’ On this occasion, I will again describe the forms this abuse may take, who the abusers seem to be, and the frequency with which this occurs. I will also raise the very real concern that this abuse can lead to active and even involuntary euthanasia.
What do we mean by elder abuse? The Toronto Declaration on the Prevention of Elder Abuse states:
… 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. Elder abuse can take various forms such as physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial abuse. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.
The Health Service Executive of the Republic of Ireland provides more detail, and I will quote from their report, Open your eyes, as there has been an attempt at systematic collection of data for the last few years. Objective data is difficult to collect, as there is serious underreporting of abuse—either by the individual or by the organisation providing their care. The report defines elder abuse as:
·         Physical abuse, including slapping, pushing, hitting, kicking, misuse of medication, inappropriate restraint (including physical and chemical restraint) or sanctions.
·         Sexual abuse, including rape and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the older adult has not consented, or could not consent, or into which he or she was compelled to consent.
·         Psychological abuse, including emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, isolation or withdrawal from services or supportive networks.
·         Financial or material abuse, including theft, fraud or exploitation; pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance, or financial transactions; or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.
·         Neglect and acts of omission, including ignoring medical or physical care needs, failure to provide access to appropriate health, social care or educational services, the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating.
·         Discriminatory abuse, including ageism, racism, sexism, that based on a person’s disability, and other forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment.
·         How often does this occur? That is difficult to assess due to underreporting. Some examples from the report Elder abuse: how well does the law in Queensland cope? will provide some insight:
·         Feelings of shame when abuse has occurred. For example, this may occur when a son or daughter has been physically violent to an older parent to coerce money from them.
·         Fear of inciting further violence, or of being punished or abandoned.
·         The consequences of reporting may be undesirable. If the violence of an adult child to an older parent occurs in the context of the parent residing with the adult child, then the parent may be concerned that reporting will lead to placement in residential aged care. The parent may have complicated feelings about implicating the perpetrator particularly if the person is their spouse, adult child or carer.
Older persons may also not report abuse due to impaired capacity. They may not be able to recognise the behaviour as abuse or, even when they do, they may not be able to articulate or even understand how to report the abuse.

What will happen if we have voluntary euthanasia legislation in this country? What pressures will be put on that family and that individual? These are the sorts of issues that you cannot legislate on. I see euthanasia and elder abuse as being intertwined and I would encourage and urge those in this place and those in the community to think long and hard about the emphasis that we place on our elderly. We should think about the lack of respect that we are showing older Australians by allowing elder abuse to continue in our community. We need to educate the community.

SOURCE:      Open Australia


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