Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Failing Canada's Seniors

Flashback to the early 70's. I was a young, Ottawa reporter searching for a story. A block down the road from my highrise, two nursing home patients died in the span of a week. They had committed suicide by crossing the road to the local convenience store, buying a lethal quantity of aspirin and downing the lot in their rooms.

The idea of two oldsters from the same joint offing themselves in such short order sounded like just the sort of story I could use. So, off I went in pursuit of glory and gain.

Somehow I wound up talking to the psychiatrist responsible for the denizens of this nursing home and several others. He was plainly distressed and lamented how he alone was responsible for the impossible task of tending to the emotional troubles of seniors in several nursing homes.

I learned from this fellow a lot about the emotional turmoil that attends removing an intellectually intact individual from their home and relocating them, against their will, into a nursing home where their very psyche is under stress from the get go. These two gents just couldn't accept the end of their independence, their dignity and so decided ending it was the best way out.

What began as a bit of sensationalism developed into something much greater as I began to explore Ontario's extended care nursing home legislation. I came to feel that, once you fell into that category, you were dead meat.

It dawned on me that those consigned to these institutions were, in essence, incarcerated. They were inmates. That drew me to consider how we expected other inmates to be treated.

My research led me to the Geneva Conventions. While nearly four decades later I can no longer recall specifics, I did find that were we to provide enemy prisoners of war with such limited resources as we afforded our own elderly, we would be in violation of the treaties - war criminals.

That, in turn, led me to what is now known as Corrections Canada, the Canadian Penitentiary Service. I wasn't surprised to discover that the minimums under the Ontario nursing home legislation fell far short of the minimums prescribed for Canadian criminals.

I concluded my series with a short radio piece explaining how the impecunious senior, facing incarceration in a state nursing home, would be so much better off by simply murdering someone to get a life sentence under vastly better conditions in a Canadian pen.

And now, three and a half decades later, are Canada's seniors any better off? From what I've seen, it's difficult to imagine they are. Without caring and watchful relatives, seniors are compelled to surrender much of their identity, freedoms and basic rights, even their personal safety. But, then again, who cares?


Anonymous said...

IN all honesty we keep people alive way way way too long in this country and intervene to prolong life when we should not. I have watched two grandparents pass in this manner who were kept alive more for the people caring for them than for them, and know for 100% certain that my grandmother would not have wanted to live like a pet.

I have given very clear instructions to my spouce that under no cercumstances is my life to be prolinged in this manner and have every intention of ending my life before I need any kind of assisted "living".

Thanks but no thanks, and I don't think it really qualifies as suicide either. If these people wanted to chose their end so be it. They should be allowed to do so.

The Mound of Sound said...

I hadn't thought of getting into this subject but you've raised it and it is important. I believe couples ought to have "living wills" expressly stating their DNR (do not resuscitate) wishes and combined with a power of attorney authorizing the partner to ensure their wishes are carried out. I certainly have one.

You are right that we too often prolong life for the sake of not letting nature take its course and, in the process, extend suffering and the loss of quality of life. That's when nursing homes can become senior citizen stables. Thus they're beset both ways.