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The Difficult Questions Concerning Elder Abuse

1253 words - 5 pages

The article, Elderly health care: The line between care and killing, from the Hearld-Review, illustrates the many problems the courts have with elder abuse cases. The case involved the death of 91 year-old Maria “Concha” Lopez of Madera, California who was being cared for by her 26 year-old grandniece, Stephanie Hernandez. Ms. Hernandez called 911 when her Aunt stopped breathing and told the dispatcher that her aunt’s bones were too fragile for CPR, so the dispatcher gave instructions for basic mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Arriving firefighters and paramedics were inundated with the odor of urine, feces, and rotting flesh emanating from piles of soiled diapers, used bandages and the patient. Ms. Lopez’s had dementia and would not go near doctors. She weighed about 35 pounds and had bedsores so deep that you could touch her bones and the metal rod in her hip. Ms. Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder for failure to give adequate care to her aunt. The trial took five weeks with the defense attorneys showing Ms. Hernandez as a loving niece whose efforts kept an old woman alive and the prosecutor showing autopsy photos and describing the woman’s condition as the result of severe criminal negligence. Ms. Hernandez’s mother worked in the fields and left her in the care of four great-aunts. Ms. Lopez watched her three sisters die in hospitals and made her family promise that she would not be taken to a hospital. The family expected Ms. Hernandez, who also had a small child, to take care of Ms. Lopez after she broke her hip. During the trial, the experts disagreed on whether the bed sores were caused by neglect or because her skin failed when she lost over half her body weight. The jury deliberated for two days and even sent a note to the judge asking if involuntary manslaughter was murder. The jury found Ms. Hernandez not guilty of murder, involuntary manslaughter, and felony elder abuse and deadlocked on misdemeanor elder abuse. The jurors said that there was not sufficient evidence that Ms. Hernandez intended to harm her great-aunt.
According to this article, the jury had difficulty determining that the victim was abused. The two categories of physical abuse against the elderly are domestic and institutional. In institutional abuse, the victim resides in a retirement center, nursing home, or hospital, and the abuser is an employee of the institution. In domestic abuse, the victim resides at home or with a relative, and the abuser is their primary caregiver who is often a relative. (Schmalleger, pg. 55) When the primary caregiver is a family member, they often control the victim’s access to anything outside the home. People who prey on the elderly take advantage of the fact that after a person reaches a certain age other people expect them to have poor judgment. Their complaints of abuse or fraud may not be taken seriously. Elderly persons who are abused by the son or daughter they live with often do not report it...

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