Question for “The Ethicist.” Is it Ethical to Ignore Potential Elder Abuse?

I was really bothered by “The Ethicist” column in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Entitled “Can You Keep a Woman From Courting Your Elderly Dad,” the column opened with a long letter from an adult child, name withheld by request, of a man nearing ninety and living in a senior residential facility.

The man is being courted by a staff member at the facility, a woman in her sixties, in violation of the facility’s rules. They’ve gone on surreptitious dates, and he’s shared some oxycontin pills he has been prescribed with the woman, at her request. Name Withheld suspects he has given her money.

The advice of Anthony Appiah, The Ethicist? In essence, “Butt out.” In Appiah’s view, the father is within his legal and moral rights, and reporting the matter to the facility’s management would be “disrespectful.”

This response has provoked a flurry of comment, which you can read by clicking on the little cartoon balloon at the upper right of the online page. Many of the comments mention “elder abuse,” which is certainly on my mind.

But the matter isn’t quite so simple. Name Withheld’s letter makes clear that he or she and the siblings are worried about their inheritance. This is pointed out by commentators who agree with the ethicist.  On the other hand, wouldn’t anyone be concerned about their inheritance in such a situation?  Does that concern disqualify them from reporting possible elder abuse?

If only this man had assembled a “protective tribe” of friends and trusted family members before going into the facility, instead of keeping his financial affairs secret as he continues to do. Of course, if the man was worried that a particular family member was only after his money and not concerned about his happiness and well-being, then that person should have been excluded from the tribe.

Anyway, the column and the discussion give much to think about. What’s your opinion?



2 thoughts on “Question for “The Ethicist.” Is it Ethical to Ignore Potential Elder Abuse?

  1. Joan Mistretta

    Oh, yes, by the way. I think that when his children call the police they will find that they have to face another problem which is that their father has broken the law as well.


  2. Joan Mistretta

    Darn. I ALWAYS read the Ethicist but this Sunday I didn’t. I have now. So, here’s what I think. This woman is clearly a predator. Taking a controlled substance from a patient is wrong on so many levels — ethical, legal–that it is hard to know where to start. She should be arrested. I am guessing that she is changing her job in order to escape being caught at what she is doing here and maybe to be able to continue without having the professional constraints on her. She should be reported to her superiors, the board who gives her a credential, if she has one, adult protective services, the unsuspecting people who have hired when she should be drummed out of her profession and perhaps the police. Saying that such action would be disrespectful to their father is ridiculous. I realize he may be mad at them but they have to bite that bullet. This woman has a history of this kind of behavior. Rhetorical question, but what the heck is wrong with the administrators of that residence that they didn’t see this going on under their noses? Well, I’m going to stop because I could go on. Forever.



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