How we treat our elderly is a measure of our true worth and moral integrity as a community.
I was privileged to attend the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s first Victorian community consultation in Bendigo this week.
This Royal Commission is a long overdue deep investigation of the Aged Care system in Australia.
Sitting alongside 300 people packed into the grand, gold rush era Bendigo Town Hall, I was gripped by the stories of many Victorians who approached the podium and directly addressed the Royal Commission.
Adult children and spouses of those in care repeated the cri de coeur for compassionate staff rather than harsh, poorly trained and temperamentally unsuited people working in the aged care sector.
At the commencement of proceedings, Royal Commissioner Lynell Briggs spoke nobly of the need to create a culture of dignity and respect.
However, the composure of the forum was unsettled by harrowing tales with similar themes, including that of a woman’s mother in aged care being regularly left for hours to lie in her own mess.
When the mother passed away, her daughter was informed by the facility operator that her mother had been “taking up too much of the staff’s time”. Upon complaint, the regulator turned on the daughter.
After listening to the stories, Commissioner Briggs did not pull any punches.
She described the stories as terrifying and acknowledged that the institutions and their regulators had failed in their duties towards patients who “at the end of their lives, should be given the opportunity to live their lives out”.
This was just one of the many tragic stories told, with many people left in tears after sharing their experiences.
Throughout the entire forum, I could not help but think of Victoria’s Assisted Dying legislation, about to commence on 19 June this year.
Elder abuse is real and this week’s community consultation was replete with first-hand evidence of it.
There is no euthanasia or assisted dying scheme that could ever effectively screen for elder abuse and coercion.
I fear that mistakes will be made, the elderly will be abused, and “assisted to die” because they are inconvenient. I fear that, as we heard of regulators this week, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board will look the other way or cover up wrongful deaths.
ACL urges all States considering adopting euthanasia or assisted suicide to listen closely to the community consultations taking place in the Federal Royal Commission into Aged Care.
As a matter of urgency, we are calling on the Andrews government to halt the implementation of Victoria’s assisted dying scheme until the Royal Commission into Aged Care has delivered its report and revealed the extent of elder abuse and coercion in our aged community.
“Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.”