By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
“Where there is no honour to the elderly, there is no future for the young…We must reawaken our collective sense of gratitude, appreciation and hospitality, helping the elderly know they are a living part of their communities and sources of wisdom for the younger generations”
Tomorrow, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
As the UN states: “Virtually all countries are expected to see substantial growth in the number of older persons between 2015 and 2030, and that growth will be faster in developing regions. Because the numbers of older persons are growing, the amount of elder abuse can be expected to grow with it. While the taboo topic of elder abuse has started to gain visibility across the world, it remains one of the least investigated types of violence in national surveys, and one of the least addressed in national action plans. Elder abuse is a global social issue which affects the health and human rights of millions of older persons around the world, and an issue which deserves the attention of the international community.”
Professor Lucia Silecchia rightly says that elder abuse is “a symptom of something far beyond what the law can address on its own…It raises a profound moral question that strikes at the heart of how, and whether, we honour our fathers and mothers—and whether a utilitarian view of human life has led us to devalue the elderly in ways that lead to neglect, abuse, and even death.
“It is easy to point to blatant financial abuse, fraud, physical attack, and medical neglect inflicted on the elderly and say…that these are evil and illegal acts. However, it is also easy to ignore the more subtle disregard for the elderly which, like disregard for any vulnerable group, can be the fertile soil in which more obvious evil takes root.”
She refers to assisted suicide, and I would add euthanasia as ways in which some are trampling upon the dignity of their elderly relatives and snuffing out their lives—part of what Pope Francis refers to as our “throwaway society”.
He notes that many elderly are either “left to die or made to die” due to their physical or social condition. Palliative care is necessary, he said, “because it counters a mentality of utility that often leaves elderly persons marginalized and alone.”
Silent cries for help
On Tuesday, June 16, I will celebrate my 70th birthday. I thank God for each day that I have spent on this wonderful creation of His—Earth. But, as I grow older, and having experienced a number of serious illnesses, I thank God for placing me in a family that cares. But many are not so lucky.
Pope Francis’ moving words are worth reflecting on as we determine what action we can take to respect and care for the elderly, to draw on their wisdom, and to combat elder abuse.
In 2015 he said: “We are all a little fragile, the elderly. Some, however, are particularly weak, many are alone, and affected by illness. Some depend on the indispensable care and attention of others. Will we take a step back for this? Will we abandon them to their fate? A society without closeness, in which gratuitousness and selfless affection—even among strangers—are disappearing, is a perverse society.
“The Church, faithful to the Word of God, cannot tolerate these degenerations. A Christian community in which closeness and gratuitousness are no longer considered indispensable, would lose its soul with this.”
Social media continues to raise our awareness of the abuse meted out to elderly, particularly in homes for the aged. T&T is yet to develop a co-ordinated approach to address the needs of the elderly who must be able to live safe, secure lives without fear, neglect, or exploitation. Elder abuse is widespread. Often the silent cries for help by those who are abused go unnoticed.
The moral test of a nation is how it treats the most vulnerable. If we are true evangelisers, we will develop outreach ministries in our parishes to meet the needs of our elderly.
By being advocates for the elderly—lobbying the private sector, Government etc, we can build inclusive communities. Let us demonstrate that we are a pro-life people; pro all life, at all ages, and in all circumstances. Let’s eradicate elder abuse.
I end with some profound words from our Holy Father: “A society where the elderly are discarded carries within it the virus of death.”
When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.
St Teresa of Kolkata
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee