Friday, June 15, 2018

Assisted suicide would make elder abuse worse.

By Sara Buscher

Every year, some 5 million older adults are abused, neglected, or exploited to the tune of about $2.6 billion; only about one in five of these crimes are ever discovered.[i]

June 15 has been World Elder Abuse Awareness Day since 2006. The UN International Plan of Action acknowledges elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue.[ii]

Elder financial exploitation is widespread, expensive, and even deadly[iii] in the U.S.
  • One in nine seniors reported being abused, neglected or exploited in the past twelve months.
  • The rate of financial exploitation is extremely high, with 1 in 20 older adults perceiving financial mistreatment occurring in the recent past.
  • Elder abuse is vastly under-reported; only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported.
  • Elder abuse victims are four times more likely to go into a nursing home. As discussed below, they are also more likely to die and become suicidal.
  • 90% of abusers are family members or trusted others.
  • Almost 10% of financial abuse victims will turn to Medicaid, which is funded by tax dollars, as a direct result of their own monies being stolen from them.
Allowing People a Free Pass to Assist or Coerce Others to Suicide Rewards Elder Abuse

Most people who die of lethal assisted suicide drugs in states[iv] giving assisted suicide a free pass are 65 and over,[v] the same demographic at risk for elder abuse. Abused seniors are three times more likely to die than those who are not abused.[vi]

Elder abuse is significantly linked to suicidal ideation.[vii] Here is a real case. A 79-year-old man[viii] attempted suicide after being financially exploited by two cousins. They moved in, forced him to sign over the deed to his house, sold it and spent the money on drugs.

In all states, murderers cannot inherit from their victims.[ix] In the seminal case, a judge refused an inheritance to a man who poisoned his grandfather to avoid being written out of the Will.[x]

Not allowing killers to inherit deters deadly abuse. Ninety percent of abusers are family members or trusted others,[xi] who otherwise stand to inherit from the abused.

When states decriminalize assisted suicide, they allow those who “assist” or abuse the elder into suicide to inherit by treating the death as caused by the deceased instead of a crime committed by the “helpers”.

Assisting Persons with Agendas Should not be Rewarded

Ulterior motives are often mixed with other motives in crimes of assisted suicide.[xii]

Consider Tammy Sawyer, trustee for Thomas Middleton of Oregon, who financially exploited him. According to news accounts,[xiii] after Mr. Middleton moved into Sawyer’s home, he deeded his house to the trust she managed, directing her to rent it, not sell it. Ten days after moving into her home, he died of assisted suicide. Before he died, she had already signed papers to list his house and two days after he died, she listed the house for sale. She deposited the sale proceeds into accounts for her own benefit.

In other cases, reported motives for assisting suicide include: the “thrill” a former nurse got in getting other people to kill themselves;[xiv] a desire for sympathy and attention by a girl who repeatedly texted her 18 year old boyfriend to kill himself;[xv] and “want[ing] to see someone die.”[xvi]

Sara Buscher is a Wisconsin lawyer and member of the EPC - USA board.

[ii] Id.
[iv] Only six states ̶  Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California (law is void per courts, appeals in process), Colorado and the District of Columbia ̶  allow assisted suicide by statute; Montana allows physicians a consent defense to a homicide charge.
[vi] Dong X MD, et al., Elder Self-neglect and Abuse and Mortality Risk in a Community-Dwelling
Population, JAMA. 2009 Aug 5; 302(5): 517–526.
[vii] Dong X MD, et al., The Association between Elder Mistreatment and Suicidal Ideation among Community-Dwelling Chinese Older Adults in the U.S., Gerontology. 2015 December; 62(1): 71–80.
[ix] R Konsdorf, Killing Your Chances of Inheriting…, 39 ACTEC L.J. 399 (2013). Only one state that criminalizes assisted suicide allows those who assist to inherit. In Lemmer v. Schunk, 2008 WIApp 157, 314 Wis.2d 483, 760 N.W.2d 446, the mother and daughter who left their suicidal husband and father alone with the loaded gun he used on himself could be found guilty of assisting a suicide and still inherit.
[x] Supra, note 9 at 403.
[xi] Supra, note 3.
[xii] Model Penal Code Part II Commentaries, Vol. 1. 91 at 101 (1980).
[xiii] Arrest warrant for Tami Sawyer: Indictment lists criminal mistreatment, aggravated theft 7/9/2011 The Bend Bulletin ;
Employee: Investor money paid debts 4/8/2009The Bend Bulletin
[xiv] Associated Press for Minnesota, “ Former nurse helped instruct man on how to commit suicide, court rules,” The Guardian, 12/28/15 (“he told police he did it ‘for the thrill of the chase’)”.
[xvi] Ben Winslow, “ Teen accused of helping friend commit suicide could face trial for murder,” (Deputy Utah County Attorney argued that the defendant “wanted to see someone die”).

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