middle aged asian woman holding an older asian woman

Hastings Center News

What Do We Owe Frail Older People?

A woman juggles caring for her aged father at home and going to work. A volunteer cares for an 83-year-old man who lives alone and wonders why the man’s son doesn’t take more of an interest. Staff members at a nursing home, discussing a patient with dementia who hits staff members, wonder if it’s acceptable to control his behavior with antipsychotic medication, knowing that antipsychotics increase the risk of stroke in people with dementia. These are three of the 10 cases in Caring for Older People in an Ageing Society, an online bioethics casebook launched this week. The casebook aims to support professional and family caregivers by helping them recognize and respond to situations that pose ethical uncertainty.

Hastings Center research scholar Nancy Berlinger is the consulting editor and Michael Gusmano is an associate editor. The bioethics casebook was the product of a project with the National University of Singapore Centre for Biomedical Ethics, The Hastings Center, and Oxford University’s Ethox Centre. “The signal importance of the Singapore Casebook as a contribution to bioethics is its focus on the home and community contexts that are invisible to most health care professionals, but are where most people experience aging and caregiving,” says Berlinger.

Gusmano added: “All global cities are adjusting to the new challenges and opportunities associated with population aging, including the desire to help people live at home and in the community as long as possible. Health and social care professionals, along with policymakers around the world, will benefit from the opportunity to reflect on how to address this challenge in the context of Singapore, a densely populated and culturally diverse global city with an advanced health care system.

The new casebook is the second edition of a casebook that the same group produced in 2014, Making Difficult Decisions with Patients and Families, which focused on ethically challenging situations facing professionals in hospitals and other clinical settings.