Friday, February 21, 2014

Not Dead Yet: "American Bar Association Newsletter Features Margaret Dore Article on Elder Financial Abuse and Assisted Suicide"

http://www.notdeadyet.org/2014/02/american-bar-association-newsletter-features-margaret-dore-article-on-elder-financial-abuse-and-assisted-suicide.html 

In a new article that appeared in The Voice of Experience newsletter of the American Bar Association, Washington State elder law attorney Margaret Dore explained how she got involved in the fight against [the] legalization of assisted suicide.  The ABA newsletter is only available to subscribers, but the article, Preventing Abuse and Exploitation: A Personal Shift in Focus. An article about guardianship, elder abuse and assisted suicide, also appears on Dore's Choice Is An Illusion website.

Dore recounted some early experiences in handling guardianship cases involving elders.  Initially, she worked within the system, but then things changed:

. . . I got a case involving a competent man who had been railroaded into guardianship.  The guardian, a company, refused to let him out.  The guardian also appeared to be churning the case, i.e., causing conflict and then billing for work to respond to the conflict and/or to cause more conflict. . . .

At this point, the scales began to fall from my eyes.  My focus started to shift from working within the system to seeing how the system itself sometimes facilitates abuse.  This led me to write articles addressing some of the system's flaws.  See e.g., Margaret K. Dore, Ten Reasons People Get Railroaded into Guardianship, 21 AM. J. FAM. L. 148 (2008), available at http://www.margaretdore.com/pdf/Dore_AJFL_Winter08.pdf
Dore's career as an elder law attorney brought new elements to the discussion of potential issues affecting elders who might be victimized.  As Dore noted in her ABA article:

In 2011, Met Life released [a . . ] study . . . , which described how financial abuse can be catalyst for other types of abuse and which was illustrated by the following example.  "A woman barely came away with her life after her caretaker of four years stole money from her and pushed her wheelchair in front of a train.  After the incident the woman said, "We were so good of friends . . . I'm so hurt that I can't stop crying."   [The study is available at www.metlife.com/assets/cao/mmi/publications/studies/2011/mmi-elder-financial-abuse.pdf.]
Dore went on to connect the dots between elder financial abuse and assisted suicide:

In the United States, physician-assisted suicide is legal in three states:  Oregon, Washington and Vermont. . . .

All three laws are a recipe for abuse.  One reason is that they allow someone else to talk for the patient during the lethal dose request process.  Moreover, once the lethal dose is issued by the pharmacy, there is no oversight over administration.  Even if the patient struggled, who would know?
In this and other legal articles, Dore has brought new analysis and valuable insights to the public debate over legalization of assisted suicide.  The majority of reported cases in Oregon and Washington involved people with education and resources.  Unfortunately, an elder's resources are no safeguard against abuse.  In fact, Dore's voice of experience would suggest that resources may instead be a motivation for it. -  Diane Coleman

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Preventing Abuse and Exploitation: A Personal Shift in Focus

http://choiceisanillusion.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/dore-preventing-abuse-and-exploitation-aba.pdf


By Margaret K. Dore, Esq., MBA
The Voice of Experience, American Bar Association
Volume 25, No. 4, Winter 2014

I graduated from law school in 1986.  I first worked for the courts and then for the United States Department of Justice.  After that, I worked for other lawyers, and then, in 1994, I officially started my own practice in Washington State.  Like many lawyers with a new practice, I signed up for court-appointed work in the guardianship/probate context.  This was mostly guardian ad litem work.  Once in awhile, I was appointed as an attorney for a proposed ward, termed an “alleged incapacitated person.”  In other states, a guardianship might be called a “conservatorship” or an “interdiction.”  A guardian ad litem might be called a “court visitor.”

My Guardianship Cases

Most of my guardianship cases were straightforward.  There would typically be a elderly person who could no longer handle his or her affairs.  I would be the guardian ad litem.  My job would be to determine whether the person needed a guardian, and if that were the case, to recommend a person or agency to fill that role.

My work also included private pay cases with moderate estates.  With these cases, I would sometimes see financial abuse and exploitation.  For example, there was an elderly woman whose nephew took her to the bank each week to obtain a large cash withdrawal.  She had dementia, but she could pass as “competent” to get the money.  In another case, “an old friend from 30 years ago” took “Jim,” a 90 year old man, to lunch.  The friend invited Jim to live with him in exchange for making the friend sole beneficiary of his will.  Jim agreed.  The will was executed and he went to live with the friend in a nearby town.  A guardianship was started and I was appointed guardian ad litem.  I drove to the friend’s house, which was dilapidated.  Jim did not seem to have his own room.  I asked him if he would like to go home.  He said “yes” and got in my car.  He was not incompetent, but he had allowed someone else to take advantage of him.  In another case, there was a disabled man whose caregiver had used his credit card to remodel her home.  He too was competent, but he had been unable to protect himself.

In those first few years, I loved my guardianship cases.  I had been close to my grandmother and enjoyed working with older people.  I met guardians and other people who genuinely wanted to help others.

But then I got a case involving a competent man who had been railroaded into guardianship.  The guardian, a company, refused to let him out.  The guardian also appeared to be churning the case, i.e., causing conflict and then billing for work to respond to the conflict and/or to cause more conflict.  I have an accounting background and also saw markers of embezzlement.  I tried to tell the court, but the supervising commissioner didn’t know much about accounting.  She allowed the guardian to hire its own CPA to investigate the situation, which predictably exonerated the guardian.  The guardian had many cases and if what I said had been proved true, there would have been political fallout.  There were also conflicts of interest among the lawyers.

At this point, the scales began to fall from my eyes.  My focus started to shift from working within the system to seeing how the system itself sometimes facilitates abuse.  This led me to write articles addressing some of the system’s flaws.  See e.g., Margaret K. Dore, Ten Reasons People Get Railroaded into Guardianship, 21 AM. J. FAM. L. 148 (2008), available atwww.margaretdore.com/pdf/Dore_AJFL_Winter08.pdf; Margaret K. Dore, The Time is Now: Guardians Should be Licensed and Regulated Under the Executive Branch, Not the Courts, WASH. ST. B. ASS’N B. NEWS, Mar. 2007 at 27-9, available athttp://maasdocuments.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/dore-the-time-is-now-ashx.pdf

The MetLife Studies 

In 2009, the MetLife Mature Market Institute released its landmark study on elder financial abuse.  Seewww.metlife.com/assets/cao/mmi/publications/studies/mmi-study-broken-trust-elders-family-finances.pdf  The estimated financial loss by victims in the United States was $2.6 billion per year.

The study also explained that perpetrators are often family members, some of whom feel themselves “entitled” to the elder’s assets.  The study states that perpetrators start out with small crimes, such as stealing jewelry and blank checks, before moving on to larger items or coercing elders to sign over the deeds to their homes, change their wills or liquidate their assets.

In 2011, Met Life released another study available atwww.metlife.com/assets/cao/mmi/publications/studies/2011/mmi-elder-financial-abuse.pdf, which described how financial abuse can be catalyst for other types of abuse and which was illustrated by the following example.  “A woman barely came away with her life after her caretaker of four years stole money from her and pushed her wheelchair in front of a train.  After the incident the woman said, “We were so good of friends . . . I’m so hurt that I can’t stop crying.”

Failure to Report

A big reason that elder abuse and exploitation are prevalent is that victims do not report.  This failure to report can be for many reasons.  A mother being abused by her son might not want him to go to jail.  She might also be humiliated, ashamed or embarrassed about what’s happening.  She might be legitimately afraid that if she reveals the abuse, she will be put under guardianship.

The statistics that I’ve seen on unreported cases vary, from only 2 in 4 cases being reported, to one in 20 cases.  Elder abuse and exploitation are, regardless, a largely uncontrolled problem.

A New Development: Legalized Assisted Suicide

Another development relevant to abuse and exploitation is the ongoing push to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia in the United States.  “Assisted suicide” means that someone provides the means and/or information for another person to commit suicide.  If the assisting person is a physician who prescribes a lethal dose, a more precise term is “physician-assisted suicide.”  “Euthanasia,” by contrast, is the direct administration of a lethal agent with the intent to cause another person’s death.

In the United States, physician-assisted suicide is legal in three states:  Oregon, Washington and Vermont.  Eligible patients are required to be “terminal,” which means having less than six months to live.  Such patients, however, are not necessarily dying.  One reason is because expectations of life expectancy can be wrong.  Treatment can also lead to recovery.  I have a friend who was talked out of using Oregon’s law in 2000.  Her doctor, who did not believe in assisted suicide, convinced her to be treated instead.  She is still alive today, 13 years later.

Oregon’s law was enacted by a ballot measure in 1997.  Washington’s law was passed by another measure in 2008 and went into effect in 2009.  Vermont’s law was enacted on May 20, 2013.  All three laws are a recipe for abuse.  Onw reason is that they allow someone else to talk for the patient during the lethal dose request process.  Moreover, once the lethal dose is issued by the pharmacy, there is no oversight over administration.  Even if the patient struggled, who would know? [See e.g., http://www.choiceillusion.org/2013/11/quick-facts-about-assisted-suicide_11.html]

Here in Washington State, we have already had informal proposals to expand our law to non-terminal people.  The first time I saw this was in a newspaper article in 2011.  More recently, there was a newspaper column suggesting euthanasia “if you couldn’t save enough money to see yourself through your old age,” which would be involuntary euthanasia.  Prior to our law being passed, I never heard anyone talk like this.

I have written multiple articles discussing problems with legalization, including Margaret K. Dore, "Death with Dignity”: What Do We Advise Our Clients?," King Co. B. ASS’N, B. BuLL., May 2009, available at  www.kcba.org/newsevents/barbulletin/BView.aspx?Month=05&Year=2009&AID=article5.htm; Margaret K. Dore, Aid in Dying: Not Legal in Idaho; Not About Choice, 52 THE ADVOCATE [the official publication of the Idaho State Bar] 9, 18-20 (Sept. 2013) available at www.margaretdore.com/pdf/Not_Legal_in_Idaho.pdf  

My Cases Involving the Oregon and Washington Assisted Suicide Laws

I have had two clients whose parents signed up for the lethal dose.  In the first case, one side of the family wanted the father to take the lethal dose, while the other did not.  He  spent the last months of his life caught in the middle and traumatized over whether or not he should kill himself.  My client, his adult daughter, was also traumatized.  The father did not take the lethal dose and died a natural death.

In the other case, it's not clear that administration of the lethal dose was voluntary.  A man who was present told my client that the father refused to take the lethal dose when it was  delivered (“You’re not killing me.  I’m going to bed”), but then took it the next night when he was high on alcohol.  The man who told this to my client later recanted.  My client did not want to pursue the matter further.

Conclusion

In my guardianship cases, people were financially abused and sometimes treated terribly, but nobody died and sometimes we were able to make their lives much better.  With legal assisted suicide, the abuse is final.  Don’t make Washinton’s mistake.

Margaret K. Dore (margaretdore@margaretdore.com) JD, MBA, is an attorney in private practice in Washington State where assisted suicide is legal.  She is a former Law Clerk to the Washington State Supreme Court and the Washington State Court of Appeals.  She worked for a year with the U.S. Department of Justice and is president of Choice is an Illusion, www.choiceillusion.org, a nonprofit corporation opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Is there a way to allow a person to end his life without making someone else a criminal?"

By Margaret Dore, Esq.

A legislator considering an assisted suicide law asked me this question: "Is there a way to allow a person to end his life without making someone else a criminal?"

This was my (slightly edited) response:

People take their lives all the time.  One of my cousins shot himself and another threw himself in front of a train.  There was no criminality involved.  Also, if people are in pain, palliative care laws allow medical personnel to give patients copious amounts of drugs, including up to sedation, which can hasten the patient's death. This is the principal of double effect.  This is legal.  For more information, read theAffidavit of Kenneth Stevens, MD, page 3, paragraph 13.

There is also palliative care abuse in which no one seems to be held accountable, except for maybe one case in California where doctors relied on a wealthy patient's daughters, who said that their father was really bad off and didn't want treatment, which was not the case.  At least, that's what's claimed by the man's son. See William Dotinga, "Grim Complaint Against Kaiser Hospital," Court House News Service, February 6, 2012.

I've had like 15-20 contacts in the past year by people upset about their family member being suddenly off'd by medical personnel and/or having DNR's put on family members/friends without the patient's consent.  My caregiver friends also talk about guarding their patients in the hospital.  Here are some letters from Montana.  http://www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org/2013/04/dont-give-doctors-more-power-to-abuse.html

Here's a letter from Washington State where assisted suicide is legal. The letter talks about doctors being quick with the morphine and also regarding the conduct of an adult son shortly after our assisted suicide law was passed ("an adult child of one of our clients asked about getting the pills [to kill the father].  It wasn't the father saying that he wanted to die"). http://www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org/2012/07/dear-montana-board-of-medical-examiners.html  Here's a letter from a wife about how she was afraid to leave her husband alone after a doctor pitched assisted suicide to her husband. http://www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org/2013/01/i-was-afraid-to-leave-my-husband-alone.html

There is also the issue that people who say they want to die don't mean it, as with any suicide.  See http://www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org/p/what-people-mean-when-they-say-they.html

I've had two clients whose fathers signed up for the Oregon/Washington assisted suicide acts.  With the first case, one side of the family wanted the father to use the act and the other side didn't.  He spent the last months of his life torn over whether of not he should kill himself.  His daughter was also traumatized.  He died a natural death.  There is a Swiss study that you might be interested in, that 1 out of 5 family members were traumatized by witnessing the legal assisted suicide of a family member.  See http://choiceisanillusion.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/family-members-traumatized-eur-psych-2012.pdf

In my other case, the father had two suicide parties and it's not clear that it was voluntary.  My client, his son, was told that his dad had said "You're not killing me, I'm going to bed").  Regarding the next day, my client was told that his dad was already high on alcohol when he drank the lethal dose.  But then the person telling him this changed his story.  In Montana, Senator Jeff Essman, made a relevant observation regarding this point:
"[All] the protections [in Oregon's law] end after the prescription is written.  [The proponents] admitted that the provisions in the Oregon law would permit one person to be alone in that room with the patient. And in that situation, there is no guarantee that that medication is self-administered.
So frankly, any of the studies that come out of the state of Oregon's experience are invalid because no one who administers that drug . . . to that patient is going to be turning themselves in for the commission of a homicide."
Senate Judiciary Hearing on SB 167 on February 10, 2011

I, however, doubt that a person in Oregon could be prosecuted.  If you read the act carefully, there is no requirement of patient consent to administration of the lethal dose, and to the extent that's ambiguous, there's the rule of lenity.  In Washington State, prosecutors are required to report assisted suicide deaths as "Natural" - no matter what - at least, that's what the regulation says: http://www.doh.wa.gov/portals/1/Documents/5300/DWDAMedCoroner.pdf   How can you prosecute someone for homicide if the death is required to be reported as "Natural?"

Here in Washington, we have already had some informal proposals to expand the scope of our assisted suicide act.  One in particular disturbed me.  A Seattle Times column suggested euthanasia as a solution for people unable to support themselves, which would be involuntary euthanasia.  See Jerry Large, "Planning for old age at a premium," March 8, 2012, which states:
"After Monday's column,  . . . a few [readers] suggested that if you couldn't save enough money to see you through your old age, you shouldn't expect society to bail you out. At least a couple mentioned euthanasia as a solution."  (Emphasis added)
So, if you worked hard and paid taxes all your life and then your company pension plan goes belly up, this is how you want society to pay you back?

As a Democrat, I see us as looking out for the little guy, not passing laws to protect perpetrators, healthcare systems, etc. from legitimate claims.  I hope that you will vote against any effort to legalize assisted suicide/euthanasia.

Thank you for writing me back.

Margaret Dore

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Elder Abuse is Not a Trend that Anyone Should Follow

Bradley Williams to the New England Journal of Medicine:

Your article, "Redefining Physicians’ Role in Assisted Dying," is based on two false premises, that legalizing physician-assisted suicide is a trend, and that the only thing stopping this trend is opposition by the medical establishment and physicians. Hence, the article proposes removing physicians from the process by putting a government bureaucracy in charge of assisted suicides. Talk about 1984 and Big Brother watching you.

The article omits that Idaho, Louisiana and Georgia recently strengthened their laws against assisted-suicide.[1] The article also omits that the Attorney General of Hawaii recently issued a opinion against assisted-suicide.[2] The article wrongly implies that a court case in my state, Montana, legalized assisted-suicide. That case merely gives doctors a potential defense to a homicide charge.[3][4]

There are just two states where assisted suicide is legal, Oregon and Washington. In these states, legalization has created new paths of elder abuse.[5] This is not a "trend" that anyone should follow.

To learn more about problems with legal assisted-suicide, see: www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org

Bradley D. Williams
Coordinator
Montanans Against Assisted Suicide &
For Living with Dignity

www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org
610 North 1st St., Suite 5-285
Hamilton, MT 59840

bradley@montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org

* * *
[1] Margaret Dore, "US Overview," "‘Choice’ is an Illusion," July 30, 2012, available at http://www.choiceillusion.org/p/us-overview.html (regarding Idaho, Louisiana and Georgia and linking to source documentation)
[2] Id. (regarding Hawaii)
[3] Greg Jackson & Matt Bowman, "Analysis of Implications of the Baxter Case on Potential Criminal Liability," Montanans Against Assisted Suicide & For Living with Dignity, April 2010, available at http://montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Analysis-of-Baxter.pdf
[4] Senator Jim Shockley and Margaret Dore, "No, physician-assisted suicide is not legal in Montana: It's a recipe for elder abuse and more," The Montana Lawyer, November 2011 (1 of 2 pro-con articles featured in the issue’s cover story) , available at http://www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org/p/montana-lawyer-article.html
[5] Id.