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Dementia and Human Rights – Part 1


I’ve recently been doing some work in respect of GPS trackers and whether they are in breach of an individual’s human rights for a carer to put one on a person living with dementia.  It has got me thinking more broadly about human rights.


An individual with dementia is still a person, they are still entitled to be treated with dignity and respect (as we all are), they are entitled to make decisions about their lives (as we all are) and they are allowed to be foolish if they wish (as we all are).


The Human Rights Convention is incorporated into English law via statute, which refers to the Rights under the Human Rights Convention in the same terms, so they are known as “Article Rights”.


So starting with the Article 2 – Right to Life.  This is the biggy and if there is one that takes paramount importance, it is this one.  This also encompasses the issue of euthanasia, which is illegal in this country.


We are all entitled to have our lives preserved if and when possible. This has to be considered in the context of death is a part of life and we all die.  Dying though is a natural part of life and the Right to Life is about not hurrying that process along unduly, although end of life care can sometimes include strong painkillers which will have the effect marginally hastening the natural process of dying, but probably better to have a few less hours than to have unbearable pain.  In these circumstances death is imminent on its own and will happen shortly without any input from anyone, pain relief is about making sure that that imminent death is made comfortable.


Protecting this Right to Life is about careful consideration of the circumstances surrounding the time when death is imminent and also when it may not be so imminent.  It is not just about a hospital based final stage of a terminal illness or similar situation.  It is about all the times when there is a real risk to life.  We all risk our lives every day, just getting out of bed.  There are lots of accidents in the house and we take our lives in our hands when we cross the road and although there are fatalities every day, the likelihood of it happening to us as individuals is pretty remote, if we take some basic safety precautions.  So the Right to Life is about when the risks become greater than this “normal”, which can happen more often in respect of someone with a dementia, as they can have an impaired ability to risk assess.


The context in which I was originally thinking about the Human Rights Convention was to do with GPS systems and people with dementia getting lost.  If someone is lost in mid winter wearing the PJs & slippers, it would be good to find them quickly to protect their Right to Life.  So in that context, it was an issue of balancing their other rights against this one and where there is a conflict between their various rights, this one takes precedence.


The next couple of Rights in the Convention are not so relevant on a day to day basis and they are Article 3 – Prohibition from Torture and Article 4 – Prohibition from Slavery or Forced Labour.  There is are no doubt people who are potentially subjected to issues in relation to these rights, but they are not the key ones in respect of dementia, so I’m not going to say anything more on them other than we are all entitled to have these rights respected and that includes anyone with a dementia.