Japan’s rapidly aging population is a problem that the rest of the world will have to face soon enough, so things like this will probably be coming to a place near you before long. A discussion on the radio this Monday, about how old people suffering from dementia could best be cared for, mentioned a recent court case. As far as I remember it went like this: a 91 year old man was being looked after by his 85 year old wife and their daughter-in-law, who had moved from Yokohama to be near at hand so that the old gentleman would be able to continue living at home in spite of his difficulties. This is exactly the kind of “care in the community” approach that has been generally promoted as being in the best interests of both the individual, who could still live in familiar surroundings with a certain amount of freedom, and the community, who would be saved the cost of a place in a home or hospital.
One day, however, the man came back from his day-care centre and while the daughter-in-law was making a cu of tea he walked out of the front door and disappeared. Later he wandered onto a level-crossing and was killed by a train. On top of their grief, the family were hit by a lawsuit from the train company who had cancelled services, paid for buses for passengers etc etc, and the court ruled that the wife and daughter-in-law had been negligent in their care of the old man and ordered them to pay 7,200,000 yen damages.
So people who sacrifice their own time and efforts to save the country from being saddled with another dependent are rewarded by being held liable for any slip in their work! This outrageous ruling, if it becomes the norm, will mean:
- Family members will be extremely reluctant to offer to help in looking after relatives with dementia for fear of the being held responsible.
- Old people will be looked on more and more as a liability and danger, and their ability to contribute to society overlooked.
- Such peoples’ liberty will be more and more restricted – locked doors, maybe even physical restraint.
- More and more, the only option will appear to be incarceration in some institution, where the level of care is sometimes horrendous, and at best lacking in the warmth of a family, and at high financial cost either to the family or to the community.
Of course the train company were only claiming their rights under the law, but this whole area obviously needs some rethinking.