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UN expert confirms older people need more protection

Lianne Murphy | Age Action | Ageing and Development | Tanzania
Written by: Lianne Murphy
Ageing & Development Officer


The UN Independent Expert on older people and human rights, Ms Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, has published a report which campaigners hope will energise the fight for a new international human rights treaty specifically for older people, writes Lianne Murphy.

Regular readers of the Age Action blog will know that discussion has been ongoing at the UN level for a number of years on whether a new treaty is necessary with some countries arguing that older people have enough protection.

However, Ms Kornfeld-Matte’s report concludes the that current international policy document on older people, the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, falls far short of what older people need.

She goes on to call on all UN member states, including Ireland, to consider a new treaty on the rights of older people.

Age Action strongly supports this position and believes that a convention would help older people here in Ireland and around the world.

It would bring clarity to the nature of older persons’ rights and also provide a way to deal with challenging issues that primarily affect older people such as elder abuse, long-term care and pensions. 

Older people failed

The current international human rights system has failed to do this and older people are almost never mentioned in existing human rights law. Like so many other areas, older people are invisible.

Age Action has been in contact with both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Health to support the growing call for a new treaty at the Open Ended Working group on Ageing at the UN where it is going to be discussed from 12-15 December. To date, the Irish Government has been reluctant to support a new treaty.

However, we hope that the independent expert’s report and support from TDs and senators backing the campaign will encourage Ireland to act to effectively protect the rights of older women and men.

You can help! Write to Minister Charlie Flanagan TD, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 80 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2 and the Minister responsible for Older People, Minister Helen McEntee TD, Department of Health, Hawkins House, Hawkins St, Dublin 2 and tell them to support a new human rights treaty for older people. 



I fully support this call for older persons to be more fully protected by human rights. My own experience as a woman age 64 with a rare neuro-muscular disease in Ireland is one of 'medical neglect' . From the point of consultations in hospitals with consultants to primary care (HSE) in the community the most common attitude I experience is "you are too old to do tests, treat, and support". No-one actually articulates this (that would be professionally unethical) however there are means and ways of denying a service. The professional only has to argue "its not warranted or necessary" and the professional is believed. There is no good complaining to 'your say-your service', which only results in a HSE manager investigating (usually) the person whom you are complaining about for whom they are managerially responsible for. Thus this conflict of interest is very clear. How will this investigator say the person they manage is negligent. Ditto the ombudsman's office. The majority of HSE complaints are NOT upheld. This is because of bias I believe and the ability of the HSE to have top legal representation whilst the older person cannot. You can complain to the hospital but that results in another conflict of interest investigation process. After a while you are deemed somehow 'mad' for raising complaints at all and further medical neglect and refusal of treatment ensues. There is a very, very strong 'medical elder apartheid' they resources for older persons medical and community care is not allocated. We are the 'useless eaters'; as Hitler called the sick, old, disabled, and others deemed not viable citizens - he gassed them. They don't do that but by subtle means we are being metaphorically 'gassed'. I have experienced this 'older-persons' 'euthanasia by stealth, I fight it with all my might, but its pernicious, nasty and common. I don't think I'm paranoid. I'm a former academic in social care. I see the reality. its very frightening indeed.

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