by Paul Russell:
In the wake of the parliamentary debate in South Australia yesterday concerning euthanasia, the South Australian Upper House has referred the matter of Elder Abuse to a select committee of the parliament for an inquiry. (NB: this is an accident of timing only)
This comes only a few months after the Parliament of New South Wales received its committee report on the same matter. This new inquiry was prompted, in part at least, by a shocking report of abuse of a nursing home resident by a support worker in Adelaide a few months ago.
Abuse is abuse and it is never simply a matter of age. Broadly speaking it is abuse because of a power imbalance of one person over another and the opportunity to abuse that power in ways that cause harm.
Ms Meredith Lea, Project Assistant in Violence Prevention with People with Disability Australia, emphasised (to the New South Wales Parliamentary Committee) the overlap between ageing and disability, suggesting that 'ableism' and disability discrimination are also drivers of elder abuse':
'Firstly, it is essential to understand that violence against older people is heavily shaped by ableism and discrimination against people with disability. Elder violence is frequently enabled by the deprivation of autonomy, agency and rights that becomes possible as people acquire disability, including being forced into residential facilities rather than ageing in place and substitute decision makers being appointed. People with disability have been fighting to have their rights, agency and autonomy recognised for many decades, often in the face of ongoing human rights violations.'
We heard recently from people living with disabilities about abuse, about discrimination and about the devaluing of their lives that draws them to genuinely fear the possibility of euthanasia and assisted suicide in such circumstances.
Abuse of elders, as Ms Lea points out, cannot be separated from disability abuse simply because the frail aged have acquired age-related disabilities just as those with a degenerative illness accumulate disabilities as their illness progresses.
This is why the risk of abuse for disability and aging cannot be dismissed. Nor can it adequately be accounted for in euthanasia type legislation.
Opposition spokesman The Hon Stephen Wade MLC told the press:
"There is significant evidence that elder abuse is widespread, particularly from children of older South Australians but even from one older South Australian to another, if you like within marriages and other relationships," Mr Wade said.
"In establishing the select committee, the Parliament is underscoring the significance of the issue of elder abuse and the high priority that it puts on this issue.
"We are keen to have a dedicated focus committee to look at these issues with a research team who may well have particular expertise that can support the Parliament to do the best possible job we can.
"There are tens of thousands of South Australians who are becoming vulnerable as they age and it is important that we do everything we can that they do so safely free from abuse."
Recent Parliamentary Reports:
PARLIAMENT OF VICTORIA Family and Community Development Committee Inquiry into abuse in disability services.
PARLIAMENT OF NEW SOUTH WALES Legislative Council General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 Elder abuse in New South Wales
FEDERAL PARLIAMENT Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings