Journal Article

ETHICAL DILEMMAS IN TREATING CASES OF ABUSE OF OLDER PEOPLE IN THE FAMILY

RUTH LANDAU

in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family

Volume 12, issue 3, pages 345-355
Published in print December 1998 | ISSN: 1360-9939
Published online December 1998 | e-ISSN: 1464-3707 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/lawfam/12.3.345
ETHICAL DILEMMAS IN TREATING CASES OF ABUSE OF OLDER PEOPLE IN THE FAMILY

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Neglect, exploitation, and violence against older people are not new, though professional treatment of the subject in practice and research started only two decades ago. This paper examines the ethical dilemmas that professionals encounter in dealing with the abuse of older people, particularly by members of their own families. Abuse of older persons, which is part of the more general phenomenon of abuse in the family, raises many ethical dilemmas for the professional. On the one hand, there is no agreement on its definition. On the other hand, so long as the older persons are not defined as incompetent, it is inappropriate to impinge on their right to autonomy and privacy, even if what they want may not be in their best interests. A survey of the professional literature shows a resemblance between the profiles of the victims of abuse and of the abusers. Moreover, in more than a few cases it has been found that the victim of abuse also abuses his/her abuser. For the most part, both tend to be vulnerable and to have difficulty in controlling their lives and in managing them independently. This paper identifies the ethical issues that professionals face in dealing with cases of abuse of elderly people and the questions that professionals must answer for themselves before initiating professional intervention. The paper ends with the suggestion that the reallocation of resources by society for those older persons who are most in need may be one means of alleviating abuse.

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Subjects: Family Law ; Marriage and the Family

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