Families also abuse the vulnerable

One of the arguments that I heard constantly regarding the Schiavo case was that Michael as guardian had the right to determine whether or not Terri should live or die. As I have stated through my comments in this and other blogs, I strongly disagree with that form of logic. There are several cases that highlight this situation. From Michigan, New York, California and Florida, the outcry against these guardians is growing. The most vulnerable members of society would have to be the men and women who suffer brain damage, either through the devastating effects of a car accident, or through dementia caused by old age, or even by a stroke.

The decision making process upon whether a person should be allowed to live or die should only be necessary where life support equipment, such as a ventilator is being used to sustain the life of a person who is dying. No matter how it is dressed up, it is inappropriate for families to be making decisions that will end the life of an elderly member of the family and only on the grounds that the upkeep of that person is too expensive. The life of the elderly member has become expendable and for that reason it seems that guardians or conservators are willing to make decisions that will help line their pockets with the wealth of the ward. If the Schiavo case had been plain sailing, that is there had not been any form of family intervention and effort to save Terri's life, then Michael Schiavo stood to inherit over 1/2 million dollars from Terri's estate. His motivation, on the surface, happened to be that he claimed that there was no way that Terri would recover. However, underneath the surface there was that money that had been won so that Terri would receive treatment. I certainly believe that the money from the lawsuit was the reason that Michael Schiavo fought so hard to kill his wife. There are other reasons and I have been looking at those reasons on my other blogs.

The Schiavo case is the tip of the iceberg. I think that I should start witha few cases within my family history that indeed highlight the difficulties faced by the elderly and the mentally incapacitated. The first case I want to highlight is that of my aunt Julia Liddell. My aunt was not able to have children, but her sister (the aunt that I never knew) had a son, and this child was adopted by Uncle Stan and Aunty Julia. The man in question was a good man, and certainly he had a good relationship, with his cousins, that is my father and uncle Allan. When my aunt had a stroke she was placed in a nursing home. Now, it was difficult for the families to visit my aunt because she lived on the other side of Melbourne. Certainly, before the stroke we used to see her on a regular basis, and I have always remembered this aunt with a lot of fondness. She always made it known that John, Uncle Allan and my father were to be the beneficiaries of her estate. However, there was a woman, on the other side of the Liddell family who worked at keeping my father and his cousin and brother away from my aunt. In this case she somehow gained control over my aunt's affairs, and she went to the next step - she had a stranger who is a solicitor draw up a will, which my aunt allegedly signed that cut out the three who were to be the beneficiaries and left her as the heir. This will was not challenged, yet it was clearly illegal because my aunt was not of sound mind at the time that the signature was obtained. Although this story is not one of guardianship abuse as in the Schiavo style, it is definitely a situation where someone has taken advantage of one who is weaker than herself.

The next story is that of my grandmother. At the time of Nana's death due to a series of heart attacks, Nana was close to 99 years of age. My late aunt Nancy, and her son had too much influence over my grandmother. My cousin gained the power of attorney over my grandmother, even though he was not the oldest grandchild, and there were three living children who should have had the legal right to having the power of attorney. My cousin was not altogether honest about how he dealt with my grandmother's estate, and he refused to hand back a painting that belonged to my mother. An adopted cousin stole a ring that belonged to my mother, but that is a story that lies outside of this one. When my grandmother was thought to not be able to look after herself my grandmother's house was sold from under her and she was placed in a nursing home. She hated that place and she used to plead with my mother to take her away from it, and she wanted to come and live with my mother. The staff at the nursing home neglected their charges, and this particular home has now been closed down due to the lack of professionalism of the staff. My mother tried to warn my grandmother that my cousin was trying to "diddle" her estate. She had a huge fight with my grandmother over a situation that had developed. My cousin used his influence over my grandmother to seek a change in the will that cut my mother out of her share of the estate. If anyone really cared about my grandmother, it was my late sister, for she used to visit on a regular basis and she did the little things that were necessary to look after an old lady. My cousin never did any of those things. He refused to have my grandmother in his home, and all he wanted was her estate so that he would have more money. He did a lot of horrible things and he set my mother's brother and sister against her with a litany of lies. My cousin was extremely manipulative when it came to this particular situation. He abused my grandmother through his lack of ensuring that she was placed in the best possible facitlity. I am not sure how much of the estate he squandered, so one day it will all catch up upon him.

There is one more case that I want to highlight, not because of any abuse either, but as an illustration of the pressure that is placed upon families to follow the recommendations of the medical staff, even if these go beyond the religious and moral values of the family. My father is not a Catholic, but he certainly valued the right to life. Anyway, my father suffered a stroke two days before his birthday. My mother was not home at the time, and it was my brother who found him and called the ambulance. The stroke caused my father to suffer brain damage of the type that caused him to be rather unruly in his behaviour. He was a very difficult patient. Anyway, after the first stroke he was allowed to come home. However, he refused to recognize my sister, Linda, as a member of the family. He was able to go home and he functioned as a member of the family but it was obvious that he had suffered brain damage. When my father suffered a second very serious stroke he was staying at Phillip Island, and he was rushed to the hospital at Wonthaggi until his transfer to the Monash medical centre. The doctors at the Wonthaggi hospital began the pressure to get my mother to agree to place a DNR on my father's chart. She refused that pressure and the family stood by that refusal. When he was removed to the Monash Medical Centre, the pressure became more intense and my family continued to resist this pressure. Eventually, after my father was placed in a nursing home, he had another stroke that caused his death. The doctors at the Monash Medical Centre refused to give him further treatment.

I have highlighted my father's story in this blog because of the way in which the whole family pulled together to protect my mother as she resisted the pressure of the doctors and the social workers involved in my father's case. The pressure that is placed upon families to make decisions that will end their lives is immense. Sometimes the prognosis that is given is one that leads to a wrong decision that is an attempt to end the life of someone who requires life support for a time. Take for example, the case of Haleigh Poutre, the twelve year old who received terrible injuries from a bashing she received at the hands of her now deceased aunt and adopted mother. The doctors who examined Haleigh did not give her a chance at survival, but Haleigh has proved those doctors to be wrong. In Haleigh's case, the adopted mother was murdered by Haleigh's grandmother, who then killed herself. Haleigh's mother was contacted and she consented to the idea that Haleigh should be withdrawn from life support, even though the child had not been given the chance to show whether she had the ability to recover. This child was placed into the hands of the Boston department of Social Security, and the public guardian did not waste time requesting the withdrawal of the life support. The judge in this case was too quick in making a decision that would allow the support to be withdrawn. However, Haleigh is a fighter and she has rallied to the point that she has been removed to another hospital where rehabilitation is given to children. The guardian in this case had not done his or her duty by the child who was incapacitated prior to her rallying revival. Everyone was too quick in trying to end this child's life. The biological mother did not care whether the child lived or died, and the only one who cared for her well being is the man who has been charged with causing her actual bodily harm. He faced being charged with murder if she had been allowed to die, yet he is the only one who fought for this child to ensure that she was given the chance to live. The question remains: what will happen to Haleigh once she has been allowed to recuperate? At the moment the child is a ward of the state, and she is subjected to the possibility of further abuse unless her future is secured.

No comments: