It is Euthanasia and it echoes the Schindler-Schiavo case

Eluana Englao, a vivacious young woman has allegedly been in a PVS since a care crash in 1992. She receives nourishment through a feeding tube (in other words she is breathing on her own). Her father claims that Eluano was opposed to being kept alive artificially, but in reality what does that mean? The provision of food and water through a feeding tube can hardly be called keeping a person artificially alive. On the other hand, I would argue that being hooked to a machine to help the person breathe, or keep the heart pumping is a different matter and would fall under the "keeping someone artificially alive" rule.

I have not seen a lot about this case. I do not know if this woman had the same level or ability as Teri (even though the MCS of Teri was denied). Therefore, I cannot comment upon certain aspects of this case.

What the court did in this case is also wrong because unless this is a written request no one can say for certain that she would not want to be fed. Regardless, where I object to the proposals is the claim that once the tubes are withdrawn Miss Englaro would not feel a thing. That is an outright lie and it is one that needs to be consistently challenged until people understand the precise pain of someone who is healthy being forced to die in such a fashion. Forcing someone to become dehydrated is totally inhuman and expecting the person to last up to two weeks in that conditions is extremely cruel.

Well, the Italian government has stepped in again in an effort to stop the murder by cruelty of this young woman. This action will cause problems in Italy because the President is opposed to the action but the Parliament will continue to move to prevent the murder taking place.

If we have learned anything from the shabby way that Teri Schindler was treated by her adulderous, murderous husband it is the fact that death by dehydration and starvation is anything but pretty. It is a disgusting way to die and it should be opposed.

If this woman had been hooked to breathing apparatus and the removal meant a quick death because she could not breathe on her own then that would be a very different story.


Turning to other states for a remedy for guardianship abuse

Los Angeles Times writers: Robin Fields, Jack Leonard and Evelyn Larrubia had done an excellent job in highlighting a variety of abuses within the Los Angeles system. It is by a stroke of luck that I have a copy of their article that followed the series of articles written in 2005 on this subject.

Back in October 2001 an unsigned letter arrived at the Arizona Supreme Court. It was alleged in that letter that a professional guardian, the director of a non-profit Tuscon firm was stealing from his elderly and disabled clients.

After the letter was received the court’s fiduciary unit sprang into action. The manager of the unit interviewed the firm’s employees and started digging through court records and boxes of cancelled cheques. It was discovered that the guardian had taken nearly $3000 from a developmentally disabled man for an electric bed that was never purchased, and the same client paid $1000 for a fundraising dinner never attended. To the credit of the unit it took 2 months to have enough documentary evidence to issue an emergency suspension of the guardian’s license. The license was later revoked. The work of the unit also triggered a criminal investigation by the state attorney general’s office, which led to felony theft charges against the guardian.

Without a doubt if the unregulated California system had the same set of procedures in place then the professional conservators could be held accountable for the theft of the possessions of their clients. The problem in California is that there is no agency that is responsible for investigating the complaints against these agencies.

The Los Angeles Times reporters in their excellent investigation discovered that professional conservators often gain legal authority over elderly people without their knowledge or consent, taking control of their lives at jarring speed. Some of these conservators neglected their wards, isolated them from relatives and ran up excessive fees. Others used their new found power over the seniors’ estates to benefit themselves, their employers and friends. The state’s probate courts which are charged with monitoring their work, overlooked incompetence, neglect and outright theft.

The State of California has been left with a system in tatters, especially when the underfunded public guardian’s office was forced to turn away seniors referred to them for protection. What California lacks is the legislation to put an oversight authority in place.

Dave Jones, a member of the Assembly in California and a former legal aid attorney has put forward a bill that follows the lead taken by Arizona. The proposal was to license professional conservators, and create a state regulatory board to oversee them. It would also require the courts to audit their work. Jones also wanted to create an ombudsman program for seniors under conservatorship similar to the one for nursing home patients.

Other steps being taken include the Judicial Council of California establishing a task force to study laws on conservatorship. The focus really needs to be on emergency conservatorships, looking at both the rules and the judges’ discretion in how the rules are applied.

There are many issues that have been highlighted, thanks to the Los Angeles Times, and those issues are quite disturbing for those involved. The judges have been granting the emergency appointment on the day that the professional conservators ask for them – and without hearing from the part involved. What has been ignored by these judgements is that adults are entitled to attend the emergency proceedings and in most cases the people involved were not even formally notified of the proceedings. The judges were guilty of waiving the requirement after the conservators claimed the prospective clients were too feeble or weak to attend court. Seniors were often placed in the hands of these unscrupulous conservators before attorneys were assigned to represent them, or court investigators could assess whether the conservatorship was in fact needed.

This situation has been remedied in Texas where the law requires that prospective wards are given notice of emergency guardianships and that they must be assigned attorneys before courts can rule on their cases – that is a very big step in the right direction. In practice, in Texas the new rules have almost eliminated emergency guardianships. When seniors are at risk, Adult Protective Services seeks strictly defined temporary authority to get them medical care or restraining orders to stop suspected thieves from accessing their bank accounts.

Other issues that need to be considered with regard to reform include:

  1. limiting the power of guardians;
  2. ensuring that prospective wards mental capacity is properly evaluated;
  3. full medical evaluation of the prospective ward;
  4. ensuring the finance is available to put in place a proper regulatory system.

The elderly within society deserve better treatment than what has been conveyed in the reports done by the Los Angeles Times. It would be interesting to see if there have been further developments – something that prevents a Schiavo situation where the husband wants his wife dead and the probate judge rolls over and agrees to legal murder.