Wednesday, March 4, 2009

You Can't Neglect Someone to Death Unless You're a Health Care Professional!

[Please note that I am commenting on the news, not reporting it. I make no claim for the accuracy of the story any more than the source should state support for my (Humble) opinions. Please visit the URL noted in the story for the source article. ]

In a Fox News story,,2933,490857,00.html, a Washington man was arrested for leaving his wife of more than 50 years to die on the floor. The 73 year-old woman fell more than 10 weeks ago, and was fed and cared for by her 82 year old husband. She remained on the floor where she fell after attempts to move her caused great pain. When she passed away, he called 911.

She was reported to have ulceration on her hip and legs. The husband was arrested for failing to summon aid. I realize this may be just, but is it fair? People frequently end up in hospitals with ulcers caused by neglect. Sometimes the caregivers are to blame for not wanting to go to the trouble of calling for an ambulance. Sometimes the patients themselves are to blame (yes! it's true!) for NOT wanting aid to be summoned. Some patients were otherwise healthy people, for whom summoning aid caused their major illness. Some were unhealthy people who contributed to their own unhealthiness. In every case, these were people who were helpless, and in the care of someone else.

I was struck by the bizarre double standard here. The state of Washington may pursue nursing homes who let elderly infirm patients die, but I've never heard of it. This comes across as a case where ordinary citizens are not allowed to neglect their family until they die. You have to work for a nursing home to have that kind of authority.

I strongly suspect (not based on anything in the story, just my own cynicism) that the woman who died requested that no emergency response be summoned. The husband (in my opinion) may have unwisely followed her wishes. Which would have been easier? Calling 9-1-1, and having her taken away? Or feeding and cleaning her for 10 weeks to avoid having to explain to the police? I suspect this man did what he did out of love and respect. No nursing home in existence can claim the same thing. And, having licensing requirements for qualified and certified personnel, have far less legal defense to explaining the deaths or severe injuries to their patients.

An 82 year-old man in jail with a dead wife probably won't be comforted by all this, though.

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