The Difficult Questions Concerning Elder Abuse

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The article, Elderly health care: The line between care and killing, from the Hearld-Review, illustrates the many problems the courts have with elder abuse cases. The case involved the death of 91 year-old Maria “Concha” Lopez of Madera, California who was being cared for by her 26 year-old grandniece, Stephanie Hernandez. Ms. Hernandez called 911 when her Aunt stopped breathing and told the dispatcher that her aunt’s bones were too fragile for CPR, so the dispatcher gave instructions for basic mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Arriving firefighters and paramedics were inundated with the odor of urine, feces, and rotting flesh emanating from piles of soiled diapers, used bandages and the patient. Ms. Lopez’s had dementia and would not go near doctors. She weighed about 35 pounds and had bedsores so deep that you could touch her bones and the metal rod in her hip. Ms. Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder for failure to give adequate care to her aunt. The trial took five weeks with the defense attorneys showing Ms. Hernandez as a loving niece whose efforts kept an old woman alive and the prosecutor showing autopsy photos and describing the woman’s condition as the result of severe criminal negligence. Ms. Hernandez’s mother worked in the fields and left her in the care of four great-aunts. Ms. Lopez watched her three sisters die in hospitals and made her family promise that she would not be taken to a hospital. The family expected Ms. Hernandez, who also had a small child, to take care of Ms. Lopez after she broke her hip. During the trial, the experts disagreed on whether the bed sores were caused by neglect or because her skin failed when she lost over half her body weight. The jury deliberated for two days and ev... ... middle of paper ... ...the Federal Sentencing Guidelines judges may consider aggravating circumstances when sentencing decisions. A typical aggravating circumstance that applies to elder abuse is if the defendant took advantage of a position of trust or confidence to commit the offense. (text pg 321) Before a judge can impose a sentence, a jury has to find a defendant guilty. It is often difficult to obtain a guilty verdict in a case involving elder abuse, as the case against Ms. Hernandez illustrated. Medicine and the law are not yet able to adequately answer the difficult questions facing doctors, courts and families in regards to elder abuse. Works Cited “Elderly health care: The Line between care and killing” 2005 National Center on Elder Abuse, Washington, D.C.

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