Sunday, January 30, 2011

Parental Advisory

If you feel guilty about not calling Mom and Dad enough, be glad you don’t live in China-- where the Civil Affairs Ministry has proposed a new law which would allow lonely parents to sue their adult children if they fail to visit regularly. Today’s New York Times has the full story on the proposal, which is intended to promote closer families and also prevent elder neglect and abuse. (Some provinces in China already have similar local ordinances; the article describes one mother who sued her adult daughters for neglect and received a judgment of monthly “parental support” from each woman.)

Chinese academics and officials who were interviewed by the Times express doubt that this measure will actually be adopted at the next annual session of the National People’s Congress in March. But the proposal has raised public awareness of a growing social concern about China’s elderly-- within the next 40 years, a full 25% of the country’s population will be over the age of 65. The expanding elderly population has brought with it a tragic rise in suicide rates among older people and increased concerns about abuse by “kenlao zu” (“people who nibble on their elders”).

Like China, the United States faces a growing elderly population, as the post-World War II “baby boomers” move steadily into retirement age over the next decade. As the American population ages, undoubtedly we’ll see a corresponding growth in “elder law,” the legal specialization which focuses on issues affecting the elderly. Elder law is a diverse field of legal practice, covering everything from estate planning; health care decision-making; managing supplemental income like Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, veterans’ benefits and disability payments; to dealing with cases of elder abuse and neglect, whether by nursing homes, family members, or others.

To learn more about the practice of elder law, try a keyword search of the Duke Libraries catalog for “elder law”, or a subject heading search for "Older people -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States". You’ll find recent introductory titles like last year’s Elder Law in a Nutshell and Mastering Elder Law. As always, Ask a Librarian for further help locating information on this-- or any other-- research topic.