Sat | Feb 23, 2019

Editorial | In coma and pregnant

Published:Saturday | January 12, 2019 | 12:00 AM

How is it possible for a woman who has been in a coma for 10 years to get pregnant and bear a child? And how could this happen without anyone even noticing over the nine-month period after conception? These are questions that United States authorities in Phoenix, Arizona, are trying to have answered.

The incident came to light in December 2018, after a 29-year-old comatose woman gave birth to a baby boy. Although this awful incident happened many thousands of miles from Jamaica, it reminds us of the horrible abuse that can occur in facilities, both public and private, that are charged with caring for the young, sick and disabled.

We hear from time to time about the molestation of boys and girls in state care in Jamaica. It is difficult to determine the scope of the problem in the absence of hard data, for we surmise that these incidents may be under-reported and underinvestigated. We are leaning on the advice of experts who say that even among the general population, sexual abuse is often not reported to the authorities.

 

CHILD-PROTECTION AGENCIES

 

Now, therefore, is a good time for child-protection agencies to review their safety measures and assess how their charges are faring. Indeed, there should be some kind of audit of nursing homes and long-care facilities and, where instances of abuse have been found, there should be some indication of the impact on the victims and recommendations on how to curb these abuses. If abusive behaviour is found, steps ought to be taken to remove the abusers from their positions of trust or, in the alternative, provide abuse-prevention training to be followed up by assessment of their performance.

In the case under discussion, new procedures have been introduced, such as having male attendants accompanied by another person when treating female patients.

With the spotlight on this horrific Phoenix case, the police there have served search warrants to get DNA from all male employees at the long-term care facility to try to identify the culprit. One high-profile member of the staff has since resigned, and maybe there are others to follow.

Typical of the silence that shrouds care facilities where events are obscured from the public's eye, the shocking story out of the Phoenix facility came to light from a family member. Since this is a woman who was helpless, requiring round-the-clock care, there can be no doubt that she was the victim of a criminal act.

Crucial details of the case are still emerging, but it has created a firestorm on the Internet. Women's advocate groups are demanding that the case be investigated as rape rather than as one of sexual assault. In the era of the worldwide #MeToo movement, which is an attempt to expose powerful figures who abuse women and to challenge the uneven application of justice, the Phoenix case is indeed another wake-up call highlighting a vulnerable segment of the population.

Unfortunately, society tends to dismiss the elderly and persons who suffer mental or physical challenges. Our highest priority should be to protect them. It is only when these stories come to light that change can be demanded and perhaps achieved.