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Ageing society

Tragic case reflects need for better elderly care

  • The killing of a chronically ill companion by an 81-year-old man brings home the misery of those suffering in poverty
  • The upcoming budget provides an opportunity to improve services for those facing such a desperate plight
PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 January, 2019, 9:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 2:45am

It is hard not to feel sorry when an 81-year-old man deep in poverty sees no way out and kills his chronically ill partner to end her suffering.

Compassion aside, he had to face the legal consequences and was convicted by a court of manslaughter. However, the judge saw the case as worthy of “tempering justice with mercy”, and the man will soon be released after being held in custody for nearly two years.

The story begs a question: is it inevitable for the ailing and the poor to end up in such a plight?

For an affluent society with robust fiscal reserves such as Hong Kong, the answer ought to be unequivocally no. But the old man apparently thought the problems he faced were inevitable for the poor.

Man, 81, who killed sick wife to be released on judge’s ‘mercy’

The government is arguably doing a lot to address the plight of the poor, but the truth is that however committed it is in helping the needy, there are always gaps in public health care and social welfare systems.

The woman was said to have first been given nursing home care following a stroke, but she later returned home and her health deteriorated. Whether more proactive welfare support could have been offered remains unclear.

What is clear, though, is that the supply of subsidised nursing home places is woefully inadequate. For applicants to die while waiting for places is not uncommon.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor could have shown more sympathy when questioned by a lawmaker involved in the case.

Responding to the plight of the couple during her question-and-answer session at the Legislative Council last week, Lam stressed that elderly services remained a key policy priority of her administration. But she blamed a shortage of land supply and manpower as the underlying reasons for inadequate nursing home care services.

True as it may be, the response does nothing to address the immediate needs of those concerned. For an administration that prides itself as people-oriented, the last thing it wants is to be seen as being indifferent to the difficulties facing the weak and vulnerable.

The upcoming government budget gives a good opportunity for the relevant bureaus and departments to critically re-examine the existing approach and coverage of services. Hopefully, more resources may be provided to improve services.