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Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

The Case of the Very Difficult Mother

If a parent refuses help, can her children be guilty of elder abuse?

Drawing of an older woman laying on a couch. Elder neglect legal case.

Can a child be tried and convicted of criminal neglect or homicide for failing to take care of the medical needs of an elderly parent? — Illustration by Gerald Dubois

Editor's note: Hear Ye! Hear Ye! explores a real court case. Read about it below and decide how you would rule. Then read the actual verdict and let us know whether you agree.

Johnnie Scott, a feisty 83-year-old, had lived in her house in Monroe, La., for 28 years. She lived with her biological son, Stanley Scott, her informally adopted daughter, Barbara Smith, and two adult grandchildren.

Johnnie had given the back room to a grandchild, and slept on the couch. Since retiring, she enjoyed sitting on the porch drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Stanley cashed his mother's checks, paid the bills and bought her necessities. Johnnie ruled over the household with an iron fist.

See also: Caregivers can get paid.

The extreme couch potato

During the fall of 2001, Johnnie had been spending more time on the couch. Soon, she could not move herself off it. She used a bucket as a bedpan, a practice she started before becoming couch-ridden.

Johnnie's children and neighbors urged her to get medical help, but she refused. When she stopped eating in late December 2001, Stanley called an ambulance. Johnnie was alert, one paramedic said. The paramedic did not see bedsores when checking her upper body, though her blood pressure and pulse rate were both a little high. Johnnie refused to leave the house, and the paramedics left.

A little over a month later, Stanley called the paramedics again. Johnnie looked "real sick," according to one EMT, and there was a strong odor of feces and urine. At first, Johnnie would not leave, slapping at a paramedic and knocking off his glasses. Eventually, she agreed to go. When the ambulance personnel picked her up they saw feces, urine, pus and blood in the couch. Johnnie's gown was covered with feces and urine, and she had bedsores.

Horror at the hospital

At the emergency room, Johnnie barely responded and was seriously dehydrated. She stank from dried and fresh urine and feces that covered her body. She had multiple scars on her leg from bedsores, one on her hip and a large fresh wound on her leg. A nurse filed a complaint of suspected elder abuse with the police.

When the police arrived, they found Johnnie in too much pain to talk. She screamed when the nurse rolled her on her side to show officers the wounds. The police went to Johnnie's house, finding it "one of the filthiest" they had ever seen. The couch was sitting outside, emitting a strong foul odor. The couch had an exposed spring, which police believed caused the gaping wound on Johnnie's leg. One of the cushions had some flesh on it.

After she left the hospital, Johnnie went to live in a nursing home.

Next: Mother forcefully refuses help from her children. >>

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