Monday, October 12, 2009

Are more readers taking note of filial responsibility laws? A particular issue for LGBT?

Recently, I got an appreciative comment on the July 12, 2007 (two years ago) entry about filial responsibility laws (in almost 30 states) in this blog, and I suspect that the visitor might actually have intended to place it on the July 7 2007 entry, where there is a detailed comment by another visitor. I had just added a comment to the July 7 entry about some subtlety as to what these laws may mean, with respect to the Virginia statute. I really appreciate these comments about a legal issue that the mainstream media seems to be missing completely, or perhaps deliberately avoiding to prevent a firestorm. Perhaps the recent case in New York, where Brooke Astor’s son (himself elderly) was convicted of embezzlement and commingling have drawn some sudden issue to the problem, as there were some media reports (not necessarily correct) that Astor was neglected sometimes. (Ironically, I don't think New York State has a filial responsibility law.)

The public’s impression is that these laws deal with the Medicaid giveback period, which the federal government bumped up to six years back in 2006, and that’s true; but they are also used as “poor laws” requiring adult children to support indigent parents (a concept that might be even more applicable before retirement age when social security can kick in, although poor people draw less social security; but the possibility of tapping social security disability benefits should not be overlooked in some cases).

Actually, some of them require even more: that the adult child or children make sure that care is arranged for disabled parents, even when the parents have sufficient resources. Adult children should not behave in a manner that disrupts the delivery of care, and should prove that they can support themselves and their own families without commingling. Even when the parents have resources, they may resist outsourced help and want adult children who were themselves childless or only children may find the demands for emotional loyalty disturbing. Some comments have suggested that this not “fair”, but that depends on how one looks at things; in a community of generally free people, not everything can turn out to be perfectly “fair”. The growing eldercare dilemma will make us rethink "family responsibility" and raise the question as to whether responsibility for parents (as in the Ten Commandments, quite literally) is fundamental the way responsibility for one's own kids is.

Indeed, in our individualistic value system, we emphasize the personal responsibility that goes with one’s own choices (raising children one has sired, and not having children until one is “ready” economically as well as emotionally); Dr. Phil covers the latter all the time. But, with the rapidly increasing life spans and sudden increase in Alzheimer’s disease (in people who no longer die “naturally” of heart disease and stroke), the genesis of responsibility for others surely goes beyond the control of one’s “choices”. Indeed, the eldercare issue could bring back the old-fashioned idea that children are in some sense “economic assets”. The pro-natalist crowd of writers like Phillip Longman, Paul Mero and Allan Carlson will dance in the streets. Maybe this is part of what Rick Warren means when he says “It’s not about you.”

None of this means one does not love one’s parents and family; but our individualistic values assume that everyone should be able to define the course of his own life and define his own dreams. President Obama said so Saturday night when addressing the Human Rights Campaign, but did not go so far as to say explicitly that the demographics of elder care can change the lives of LGBT people disproportionately. He did mention the importance of the health care debate in the larger sense, probably as including elder care: but filial responsibility deals with custodial care issues not generally covered by Medicare, and long term care insurance is only now coming onto the scene as a strategy to address it. I did hear a remark tangential to eldercare obligations Sunday at the National Equality March rally.

The media ought to start to cover this issue promptly, and start quizzing the politicians. Right now, it’s up to the bloggers, and their visitors who post comments.

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