World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was marked on 15 June, a day dedicated to spotlighting the shameful deterioration of the once universal human value of respecting our elders. 

Elder abuse is so prevalent in Australia that last year there was a Royal Commission into the matter with results that reflect widespread abuse of our senior citizens in aged care facilities. 

This being the case, it’s incredibly concerning that in June 2021, South Australia passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, to legalise euthanasia.

Even with the strict eligibility criteria, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill is problematic, particularly during this time when there are reports of substantial suffering, abuse and neglect in Australian Aged Care Facilities.

The 2020 findings following the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality & Safety, estimated that almost 40% of elderly people in Australian residential care have experienced some form of abuse, including “emotional abuse, physical abuse and/or neglect.” (1)

This is a blatant demonstration of the failure of our systems and structures that are supposed to adequately support and serve our senior citizens and people in end of life/palliative care.

Neglect of elderly is particularly concerning, with the prevalence in Australian aged care facilities estimated to be 30.8% for people experiencing some form of neglect. 

“This includes people who reported concerns about how they are helped to shower, eat, toilet, get around, groom and/or use continence aids; concerns about how medication is managed, wounds are looked after, catheters are used and/or pain is managed; concerns about accessing a GP, dentist, mental health services, and/or other allied health services; and/or care staff rarely being able to spend enough time attending to the person’s individual needs.” 

There is also an underlying cultural element that positions senior citizens as a liability, or a hinderance, rather than a fountain of blessings, a source of wisdom, guidance and support.

Traditionally assisted dying has been presented as the “ethical alternative” to end unnecessary suffering.

Words like choice, dignity, and a-right-to-die get used in the arguments that support assisted dying.

Dying, like birth, is a natural human process. 

We have failed as a society if our most vulnerable citizens, particularly any of the estimated 40% of our senior citizens in aged care facilities experiencing abuse and neglect, ever feel the need to make use of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill to end suffering and leave this earth with dignity.

References:

https://www.legislation.sa.gov.au/LZ/B/CURRENT/VOLUNTARY%20ASSISTED%20DYING%20BILL%202020_SUSAN%20CLOSE%20MP.aspx

https://agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-12/research-paper-17-elder-abuse-prevalence-aged-care-facilities.pdf