In New Zealand the following report has not seemed to generate much media interest although it is extremely troubling and also extremely relevant to the euthanasia debate which is simmering away in the background. (At the last election in 2014 the opposition Labour party forced one of its MPs to withdraw her private members bill on the enthunasia issue as it was felt not to be a vote winner. It didn’t help the party which recorded one of its worst election results in history. However, the issue is still cropping up from time to time.)
According to this article in the NZHerald, the Age Concern charity estimates that “between 17,000 and 25,000 older Kiwis [New Zealanders] experience some sort of abuse each year”. What is even worse is that about 75% of all alleged abusers are family members. Last week the Senior Citizens Minister, Maggie Barry, released the 2014 Report on the Positive Ageing Strategy “that found that each year about 3-10 per cent of older people are subjected to physical, psychological, sexual or financial abuse, and predicted that rate would increase.”
This predicted increase was due to an ageing population and financial pressures as people struggled with increasing house prices and rents. The Chief Executive of Age Concern, Robyn Smith, detailed some of the “financial abuse” which made up about half of the cases of elder abuse:
“There is a kind of attitude that ‘we are entitled to this money’, and that an older person is just an older person – that they don’t have the right to self-determine where their resources go…It can be the unauthorised taking of money or possessions, or families moving back into somebody’s house and then shunting the person to the back-end of the house.”
The Minister and Age Concern want to raise awareness of elder abuse so that elderly people who were obviously unhappy will be noticed by others in the neighbourhood and looked out for. Common examples of financial pressure and abuse include family members drawing up wills and putting pressure on their elderly parents to sign them. In other cases family members have moved into their parents’ house and do not pay rent and then use their parents’ pension to pay for their own expenses.
Quite clearly there is a problem with a society where a substantial proportion of elderly people are subject to abuse of any form; where family members treat their elderly relatives as a cash cow to be milked or an inconvenience to be lived around. A healthy society would be one in which the elderly are respected as a valuable part of the family and community. I would hope that stories like this one will give New Zealand pause before it leaps into the void by voting in some form of legalised euthanasia. But my hopes are not high…