How Can We Combat Ageism in Law?
The pandemic spotlighted our treatment of older Ontarians, including from the vantage point of discrimination based on age in health care. The problem showed itself in various ways, including through crowded hospitals discharging elderly patients who still needed care and through seniors in long-term care homes with COVID-19 having struggled to get hospital treatment. Reportedly, only 20% of those in long-term care in Ontario who died from COVID-19 were transferred to hospitals, the tragic result being thousands of critically ill residents left to die in facilities not armed to manage the virus.
Ageism transcends the health care system, occurring consciously or unconsciously in other areas, including in our law practices. In Alex Procope’s article How to Combat Ageism in the Practice of Law, he speaks to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recently published Global Report on Ageism, and its reinforcement of the need for us to recognize and resist ageism in our practice.
To recognize it, Mr. Procope looks at the definition, which the WHO Report describes as stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) directed towards people on the basis of their age. He also provides examples of ageism in play in estate litigation, including through (i) a testator whose will is subject to challenge being depicted as susceptible to undue influence due to their age, (ii) the rights to privacy and due process being downplayed in guardianship disputes, and (iii) through requiring a potential client to submit to a capacity assessment before proceeding with the drafting of a will.
To combat ageism, Mr. Procope considers strategies that he employs, including by approaching cases with the rights and autonomies of the older client as paramount. By seeking to understand the culture, race, interests etc. of older persons, their individuality can be the focus. Additionally, import is given to using non-discriminatory narrative. For instance, he does not cite a person’s age as evidence of incapacity, and he links a person’s frailties to specific evidence of the various factors at play in the case, rather than to age.
These materials serve as a reminder to me that ageism can present itself in both obvious and subtle ways, and that we all have opportunities to address it in our practices.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,