Framing the response—dignity, autonomy and safeguarding

1.17     The recommendations in the Report seek to balance two framing principles: dignity and autonomy, on the one hand; and protection and safeguarding, on the other. The ALRC recognises that autonomy and safeguarding are not mutually inconsistent, as safeguarding responses also act to support and promote the autonomy of older people.

1.18     Elder abuse undermines dignity and autonomy. Abuse and living in fear can inhibit a person’s ability to make choices about their own lives, to pursue what they value. Protecting older people from abuse can therefore be seen to support them to live autonomous and dignified lives. The UN Principles for Older Persons state:

Older persons should be able to live in dignity and security and be free of exploitation and physical or mental abuse.

Older persons should be treated fairly regardless of age, gender, racial or ethnic background, disability or other status and be valued independently of their economic contribution.[7]

1.19     Sometimes, protective measures may conflict with a person’s autonomy, such as where an older person refuses to accept support, or to report abuse to police. Where possible, the ALRC has sought to recommend changes to the law that bothuphold autonomy and provide protection from harm, but where this is not possible, greater weight is often given to the principle of autonomy. Older people, like most adults, prize their freedom and independence, and do not wish to be treated like children or sheltered from all risk. The autonomy of older people should not be afforded less respect than the autonomy of others. However, in limited cases, where there is particularly serious abuse of vulnerable people, protection should be given additional weight.