Sunday, January 27, 2013

Assisted suicide would exacerbate problem of elder abuse in Montana

For over 20 years, I have been an internal medicine physician with a high percentage of older patients. I have had the painful misfortune of personally observing countless instances of elder abuse.

Elder abuse is horrific and on the rise. Perpetrators of the abuse include hired caregivers, neighbors and family members. In my experience, the motive is usually financial gain. This was true in the case of one of my patients, where a much younger man obtained financial control (became payee for Social Security and retirement benefits) by taking advantage of an elderly woman’s loneliness and dementia. He feigned romantic interest in her, flattering her to the point that she took his side against her family members. She became isolated and totally dependent on him. After many months, Adult Protective Services was able to provide a guardian. This same motive of greed could lead to coerced assisted suicide if there was anticipated financial gain, and death could occur quickly if assisted suicide was legal – before protection could be put in place.

In Oregon and Washington, where assisted suicide is legal, portions of those states’ statutes lend themselves to elder abuse, such as the fact that no witness is required at the time of death. An elderly patient of mine recently died peacefully and of natural causes in his home, surrounded by family. His daughter was devastated when a family member visiting from Oregon asked if they had given him pills to end his life, as they would have done in her state.

Elder abuse is already a huge problem in Montana. I hope Montana’s legislators will have the courage to stop legalization of assisted suicide here and thereby protect the elderly and disabled.

For more information, including a summary of this important issue, see

Annie Bukacek,