The sensational story of the 26 year older caregiver who was charged with murder of her 91 year old great aunt leaves caregivers balancing end of life wishes with elder abuse.
The LA Times reported the story of Stephanie Hernandez who was charged with murder of her great-aunt after caring for her for over three years. Hernandez was charged with murder and elder abuse due to the fact that her 91 year-old great aunt died in her home weighing only 35 pounds, and covered in bed sores. While at first blush this seems appalling, when put in context it is apparent that she simply tried to follow the wishes of the woman who raised her. Stephanie’s aunt in a healthy state was only 100 pounds. After breaking her hip, prior to Hernandez becoming her caregiver, she was a mere 88 pounds. She was hospitalized for an ulcer on her shin and was at a mere 64 pounds. It was the aunt who refused medical treatment from visiting nurses, refused to go to a doctor and refused to let Stephanie bring in any doctors. The aunt made family members promise that she would not die in medical facilities like her sisters before her. Stephanie accepted the responsibility of carrying out her great-aunt’s wishes, and in the end was charged with murder and lost custody of her own daughter because of it.
Fortunately for Stephanie the prosecution was unsuccessful in their charges and Stephanie was found not guilty. But, Stephanie’s, and her aunt’s, tragic case highlights the importance of end-of-life directives, aka advanced directives or living wills. Most family members are not trained to be a loved one’s care provider, but often end up in that situation. It is important to reduce your wishes to writing to not only insure that your wishes are followed, but to provide protection to your loved ones who are trying to honor your wishes. It proved to be important evidence in Stephanie’s case that it was her aunt’s wish that she be cared for by Stephanie and not unknown medical providers.