People near the end of life need the same protection as children

by Tony Walter, The Conversation, 7 September 2017

Tony Walter is a Professor of Death Studies at the University of Bath.

But in many societies, the approach to end of life care requires us to continue as active and responsible citizens for as long as our mental capacities allow – to make choices about what kind of care we want, and where. In anticipation of losing capacity, people are urged to act responsibly and make preferences known in advance while they are still able.

This approach to policy has not of course prevented a series of elder care scandals in hospitals and care homes in Britain. That is because these scandals were not about lack of choice, but about neglect and abandonment: patients not turned over in bed, food being left out of reach, residents not helped to the bathroom.

As well as badly structured and poorly funded health and social care systems, an underlying cause of these scandals may be traced to a blind spot in Western democracies. The single-minded valuing of individual autonomy fails those whose deteriorating body or mind compromises this very autonomy.

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