Stories of elder care nightmares in England and Wales are the result of a new generation of “scared people” that see the elderly, sick and handicapped as “cumbersome” and “useless,” according a Vatican consultant.
British authorities earlier this month reported that there are grave deficiencies in the country’s national health care system.
According to an analysis of death certificates of elder care home residents by the Office of National Statistics, 667 hospital patients died of dehydration between 2005 and 2009 in England and Wales.
The study also reported an increase in negligence-caused deaths due to malnutrition, blood poisoning and infection from bed sores over the past decade in the national health system.
The reports have prompted cries for reform in Britain and even caught the attention of the Vatican newspaper.
Dr. Carlo Bellieni, a regular commentator on bio-ethics and health care issues, wrote on Feb. 19 that the lack of care is indeed “scandalous ... but not unexpected.”
He point out other reports to the English Parliament in recent years on the poor treatment available to mental patients, whom he characterized as “invisible” to national health system.
“In short, whomever is quietest receives a proportionately inferior treatment,” Bellieni said.
Neil Duncan-Jordan of the National Pensioners Convention told Britain's Daily Mail it is “absolutely shocking” that these causes are leading to so many deaths.
“What it shows is that a significant number of older people in our care homes are getting substandard, third-rate attention.”
He said he was struck by the fact that they died of poor diet, thirst or because they were not tended to well enough in bed and yet were likely paying the equivalent of around $1,300 (800 British pounds) per week.
“For them to be treated in that way is nothing sort of scandalous,” he said.
A separate report from the Health Service Ombudsman of the National Health Service released earlier in 2011 exposed 10 unfortunate stories of elderly patients who were neglected in hospitals. Some were kept for weeks or months with limited access to food, water and bathing.
In one case, a man's life support was unplugged before his sons were informed.
Of thousands of complaints at national health hospitals, a staggering majority of those investigated involved elderly patients.
Bellieni pointed out a study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” in 2000 further emphasized the point. Results of a survey showed that in a number of western nations, “the majority of doctors think that life with neurological disability, but also with a serious physical handicap is worse than death.”
This perspective, he said, is a “sign of a cultural wound, a profound moral discomfort that shows the disability not as something to overcome, but something intolerable, towards which one feels aversion, not compassion.”
Solutions are being sought for how to help them die and not for how to help them live better, he said.
“The issue of death with dignity is not how to rush it, but how to conquer pain and solitude,” said the doctor. “But a climate of terror towards a potential and improbable persistence of keeping (people) alive has been scientifically created.”
In the world today, “a generation of scared people” is being created that “only knows how to seek ways to defend themselves, to run for shelter, flee, looking at death as the last desperate consolation, because life has ultimately lost (its) meaning and attraction.”
This perspective leads people to seek “exit strategies” for lives that have become “cumbersome” to them, he explained.
Bellieni asserted that the “abandonment of the elderly ... is not a problem of malpractice but of cultural discomfort in the face of the sick ... as long as they are living.”