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?