Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Senior's death on floor of her home raises questions around care

This article was first published in Advocate Daily.

The case of a Winnipeg man accused of leaving his fallen, elderly mother on the floor of her home where she then died is a “horrifying” example of why a process is needed to ensure all Canadian seniors have proper care, says Toronto health and human rights lawyer Hugh Scher.

Ron Siwicki, 62, was arrested Dec. 17 and charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life after the death of his 89-year-old mother, CBC reports.

Siwicki's lawyers have said the woman did not want to continue her life, and did not want her son to call for help. Siwicki covered her with a blanket on the floor and fed her nutritional drinks and water until she died, says the report.

“We really need to take steps to ensure that seniors are not effectively left in situations where they are ultimately deprived of the basic necessities of life and neglected,” Scher tells CBC News. Listen to Scher on the World at Six (Item begins at 13:09). As counsel to the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and past chair of human rights for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Scher has been involved in several precedent end-of-life cases and notes that this should never have been one.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Scher says the case raises questions around end-of-life wishes and care.

“How far can this really go?” he says. “Does it go to the point where we can just allow senior citizens to be left to lay and die on their floors at home after they’ve fallen? Or are we to take appropriate care to ensure there is dignified living and dignified death?”
While debates around end-of-life care are nothing new, Scher says the Siwicki case is particularly disturbing.
“I was surprised and horrified at the notion that this is how we’re going to treat our seniors; this is how we’re going to treat those who are vulnerable and in our care, to simply leave them to die on the floor with only the most basic of food and water, and without any basic pain and symptom management,” he says. “This is a very concerning proposition as it’s clearly contrary to basic human rights obligations and to basic care obligations that we all owe as citizens and as people of this country, particularly those who are in positions of trust and authority relative to their loved ones or are healthcare providers.”
Scher tells AdvocateDaily.com that steps need to be taken to ensure “we don’t neglect or abuse people, that people are not left to simply rot to death and that we do not effectively deprive people of the necessities of life both contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada and our most basic legal and moral obligations as Canadians.”

A cultural shift, says Scher, has contributed to society’s changing views on assisted suicide.
“It’s really disrespecting – to a greater extent than before – human beings and human life in a manner that really does put people who are vulnerable and in the care of others at risk. There must be exceptional efforts taken, I think, to ensure that neglect and abuse are avoided," says Scher.
Scher links this societal shift to the decline of fundamental social institutions like family, religion and medicine.

“We have historically believed that the third-party killing of people is wrong,” says Scher.

“The changing attitude in this area reflects a clear breakdown in some of our most basic social institutions, be they family, be they the medical supports that people have earned the right to depend on, or be they the religious and other moral pillars that have historically served as the basis both for our laws and behaviour in society."

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