Reading Ken Connor’s article “Embryo to Elderly—A Consistent Life Ethic” I was reminded of my great-grandmother. She lived with my grandparents during my early childhood and I recall clearly the summer days when school was out. I’d often get to spend a week or two there and I’d spend most of my time inside playing cards with Granny.
Sadly, thirty-odd years later I have no idea what her name was, only Granny stuck in my mind. I also don’t remember when she was put in the rest home and was certainly never told why. But I do remember not wanting to visit her there after the first time. What is was that made me hate that place I can no longer say. Perhaps it was the white-clad authorities who ran the home. Or perhaps it was the way Granny seemed so much smaller, even pathetic, there. Or perhaps Ken’s article offers some other insights that my young self could only intuit.
We’re told that elder abuse is on the rise (PDF), statistically speaking. This is not my field, but I see no reason to doubt those whose it is.
We hear sporadic stories about elder abuse in the media but it is hardly on the tip of anyone’s tongue, as Connors pointedly points out:
If this sort of neglect and abuse were happening to prisoners at Guantánamo, there would be no end to the media outcry. If it happened in day care centers, politicians would immediately demand answers and reform. Yet although these kinds of incidents happen regularly in nursing homes across America, few people know about it, and fewer still seem to care.
In other words, it’s not a topic that brings in votes. Why is that? And why does the media downplay this subject when many news organizations and reporters publicly aknowledge that it’s their agenda to promote the rights of the have-nots? Indeed, who has less than an elderly person confined to a nursing home that provides poor or even negative care?
I would suggest that the elder neglect issue does not play well with the press for several reasons. One of those is that it is an issue that cuts across all divisions in society. There’s no one particular group to demonize, which makes it less fun to report on.
Another might be that the trend of working adults who neglect and/or abuse their parents has taken off during a time when liberal policies were implemented throughout American society.
One could easily draw the conclusion that the social policies that circumscribe Christianity and promote the welfare state contribute to the problem of elder abuse. Removal of personal responsibility does that, it should be understood, because lack of responsibility breeds lack of interest and ultimately disdain. One need look no further than public housing projects to see the truth of this.
Consider: if you were being put in a nursing home, would you prefer a for-profit, a generic not-for-profit, or a Christian-run facility? That, friends, is a no-brainer.
The last reason I’ll discuss today for elder abuse being a media and political non-issue is the legitimate question of whether the elderly in question may deserve the mistreatment they receive.
How could that be? I have a couple of friends who can tell tales about their upbringing that would make your trigger finger start to twitch if I were to write about their stories. Perhaps someday I will, if they desire it. But that will almost certainly not happen.
What sort of care do the parents of these good people have the right to expect from the children they abused? Who is to say that they are wrong if for turning an abusive parent over to Joe’s Nursing Home and walking away? As ye sow, so shall ye reap, no?
One close friend did just the opposite by rising about the pain of childhood and caring for an elderly parent all the way to the end, an often unpleasant journey that took several years to complete after the parent was bedridden. That’s very commendable, in my book, which is one reason why I am such an admirer.
Politically there’s simply no mileage to be made from this issue and so it is ignored.
Connors makes his solution clear in his closing paragraph:
The church must find its voice and speak out against the injuries and indignities suffered by our frail elderly. If the character of a culture is measured by the way it treats its most vulnerable members, what does the epidemic of abuse and neglect of our elders say about our society? A culture of life should extend dignity, compassion and care to those who are at the end of their lives, no less so than to those who are at the beginning. Until we do, we cannot be said to have embraced a consistent life ethic.
That may be a viable solution. Churches have been forced out of many areas of American life. But elder care is an issue that fits with Christianity’s mission of caring for others and that no one seems to care about enough to take away from them. It is certainly preferrable to another big-budget government program and more likely to lead to happier endings for people at the end of their lives.