Webcast archive: Financial abuse of elders

This week, we’re looking at the connection between financial exploitation of the elderly, inheritances, and assisted suicide.

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck, Christian Debray, and Taylor Hyatt discuss:

  • Financial abuse, inheritance, and assisted suicide
  • Updates from Portugal and California

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.


  • For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the finances of assisted suicide; people who have made illegal profits, and the fees earned by doctors for providing the service. Today, we’ll be looking at the connection between financial abuse of elders, inheritance, and assisted suicide.
  • The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes (harm) to an older person.”
  • According to the King County Prosecutor’s Office in Seattle, 10,000 people turn 65 every day. This number will remain consistent over the next 17 years.
    • 20% of those people will be victims of financial exploitation.
    • Another 10% will face emotional, physical, or other types of abuse.
  • The presence of an age-related disability does not automatically mean that a person becomes vulnerable or loses the capacity to manage their own affairs. For more information on capacity, check out our webcast series from February 2nd to 16th of this year.
  • The National Adult Protective Services Association in the US lists the following effects of financial abuse:
    • Loss of trust in others;
    • Depression;
    • Feelings of fear, shame, guilt, anger, self-doubt, remorse, and worthlessness;
    • Financial destitution and health problems caused by lack of food, medicines, heat and other resources;
    • Becoming reliant on government programs;
    • Inability to provide for one’s own long-term care needs; and
    • Loss of primary residence.

These are the kind of circumstances that drive people to seek assisted suicide.

  • The American Bar Association published a factsheet stating that financial abuse increases an elderly person’s risk of premature death by 300%. A 2015 study by True Link Financial Services divided financial abuse into criminal fraud (including scams and identity theft), financial exploitation, and caregiver abuse.
    • Criminal fraud is defined as any money-taking activity perpetrated by a criminal (usually a stranger) who is concealing his or her identity to avoid getting caught.  This would include Nigerian royalty emails or traveling grandson scams.
    • Financial exploitation is when a company misleads the person about the value or price of a good or service and avoids responsibility through legal technicalities.  This includes dietary supplements and other products sold on TV (with hidden shipping and handling fees) or subscription services.
    • Caregiver abuse is theft or fraud that is enabled by the relationship of trust between the perpetrator and the victim.  This would include “borrowing” money, rewriting a will or misdirecting funds.
  • Most jurisdictions have adopted the “slayer rule” (also known as the “forfeiture rule”) which evolved over the centuries to prevent people from inheriting from someone they have killed. This is based on the principle, stated in an 1889 case, that ““[n]o one shall be permitted to … take advantage of his own wrong, or to … acquire property by his own crime.”  In Canada, the slayer rule was stated by the Supreme Court in 1895.  Under these laws, the murderer is treated as if they had died before the victim, and the money would go to the next generation.
  • More recently, however, the slayer rule is being re-examined in light of the legalization of assisted suicide, on the theory that if the “killing” is not an illegal act, and no “wrong” has been committed, no one should be punished.
  • In 2008, the appeals court of Wisconsin found that the state’s slayer statute did not apply in the assisted suicide of Edward Schunk. Mr. Schunk was hospitalized with a terminal illness, but came home for one last visit to his family, pets, and property. Edward’s wife Linda and daughter Megan brought him to his cabin and left him alone with a loaded gun. He was found dead of a gunshot wound later that day. Five of Edward’s other children from a previous relationship claimed that Linda and Megan should not have inherited from Edward’s estate after his death, because they “assisted” his suicide. The court found that Edward’s death did not meet the definition in the slayer statute of an “unlawful and intentional killing of the decedent,” because Linda and Megan did not ‘deprive’ him of his life.
  • Section 443.18 of California’s End of Life Options Act, which was struck down a couple weeks ago, states that its use “shall not [constitute] homicide, or elder abuse.”
  • Under Bill C-14, Canada’s assisted suicide and euthanasia legislation, the following “safeguards” are supposed to prevent financial exploitation:
    • A person who signs the assisted suicide request on the recipient’s behalf, as well as the two people who witness the signing of the request, cannot be “a beneficiary under the will of the person making the request” or receive “a financial or other material benefit resulting from that person’s death.” The witnesses cannot be a health care or personal care provider to the person seeking to end their life.
    • The doctors and nurse practitioners who determine eligibility and provide or administer the lethal substance cannot inherit under the person’s will, or another “financial or other material benefit” besides “compensation for their services.”
    • The person has “made a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying that, in particular, was not made as a result of external pressure.”
  • But Canada’s AS/E law also includes a loophole big enough to drive a hearse through:
    • Section 241.1(5) states that: No person commits an offence under paragraph (1)‍(b) if they do anything, at another person’s explicit request, for the purpose of aiding that other person to self-administer a substance that has been prescribed for that other person as part of the provision of medical assist­ance in dying …”
    • This and similar exemptions apply even if the ‘helper,’ “has a reasonable but mistaken belief about any fact that is an element of the exemption;” such as whether the person wants to die.
  • The “silver tsunami” is expected to result in a population of 80.8 million Americans over the age of 65 by 2040, and a quarter of Canadians by 2036 according to Statistics Canada. The introduction of legal assisted suicide and euthanasia will make financial abuse harder to detect…and more lethal.


  • In California, Judge Daniel Ottolia confirmed last week that the process of adopting California’s assisted suicide law violated the state’s constitution, making the law invalid. The End of Life Options Act has been put on hold for at least a month while appeals are in progress.
  • Portugal’s parliament voted against introducing assisted suicide legislation on May 29. The final tally was 115 opposed to the bill vs. 110 supporting it, with four abstentions. While early news coverage mainly focused on religious objections, we were happy to hear the Portuguese Doctors’ Association say that the bill “violated key principles of the medical profession.”
  • Members of the Communist party also opposed the bill. MP Antonio Filipe made a statement saying that legal euthanasia was not “a sign of progress, but a step towards civilizational retrogression with profound social, behavioural and ethical implications. In a context in which the value of human life is frequently made conditional on criteria of social utility, economic interest, family responsibilities and burdens or public spending, legalisation of early death would add a new dimension of problems…[by] accelerating the deaths of those to whom society refuses to respond and support in situations of fragility and need. Faced with human suffering, the solution is not to divest society of responsibility by promoting early death but to ensure conditions for a dignified life.” Mr. Felipe has explained exactly why opposition to assisted suicide is a truly progressive and equity-oriented view.

An extra comment from Taylor:

  • The “silver tsunami” term was recently used on John Oliver’s talk show. I found a great Twitter thread from some advocates this week who think Mr. Oliver didn’t give enough time to a disability-centred analysis. Thanks to Sara Luterman (@slooterman) for the original posts and Ari Ne’eman (@aneeman) for sharing. Here are some of the points Sara made:
    • Just because your guardian is your family member, that doesn’t mean they can’t take advantage of you.
    • She mentioned the story of William Dean, an autistic man in Maine whose court-appointed guardian sold his house and had his cat put down.
    • Restrictions on marriage and voting embedded in guardianship are left over from eugenic attitudes and a desire to keep disabled people hidden from the public.
    • For alternatives to guardianship, check out some resources from the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.