Wednesday 12 December 2018

Tragic case highlights shameful treatment of carers in our society

Bernadette Scully (centre) with sister Teresa (left) leaving the Central Criminal Court, where she was found not guilty of the manslaughter of her daughter. Photo: Collins Courts
Bernadette Scully (centre) with sister Teresa (left) leaving the Central Criminal Court, where she was found not guilty of the manslaughter of her daughter. Photo: Collins Courts
Stella O'Malley

Stella O'Malley

One of the hardest things about being a parent is when we realise that we aren't able to relieve our children's pain and suffering.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is when we realise that we aren't able to relieve our children's pain and suffering.

Perhaps this is why there was a collective sigh of relief all around the country yesterday when the news broke that Bernadette Scully had walked free from the court.

Because even a cursory glance at this case shows us that Bernadette Scully was a loving mother who did her very best in caring for her daughter Emily.

Emily had microcephaly and severe epilepsy, she could not communicate, stand, sit or walk and she had the mental age of a six month old.

The level of care this child needed is incomprehensible to most of us and the helpless anguish that Bernadette Scully must have experienced as she watched her child writhe in agony is also unimaginable to most of us.

The mother had tried to comfort her daughter over the previous eight days and nights but she said Emily's crying that fateful night was "relentless, you would have a pain in your brain, I was so tired, what else could I do. She was crying, her little body began to go stiff and she let out a shout. I thought in my head about all the medications I could not give her."

It's hard to imagine but, every single day, carers all around Ireland have to weigh up similar dilemmas; should I give more pain relief or will it kill them?

Defence counsel Ken Fogarty said there were hundreds if not thousands of occasions where Emily could have died but her mother was there to make sure she did not.

According to Mr Fogarty, Ms Scully was "falling asunder" as she tried to cope with caring for her daughter and, as Mr Fogarty pointed out, it's just not fair that we as a society think we can dump all the responsibility on the carer and then, when things go wrong, say "you killed her".

It was only a couple of weeks ago when Johanne Powell appeared on the 'Late Late Show' to speak out about the plight of carers. Ms Powell eloquently described to Ryan Tubridy how she was at the end of her tether because she didn't have enough support to help her care for her severely disabled child. Johanne's daughter Siobhán is 32 years old and cannot walk, speak or eat solid food.

On the 'Late Late', Ms Powell clearly rejected the ridiculous notion that carers are living saints. Most carers are ordinary people who are leading lives of quiet desperation because they have been given an extraordinary burden of care.

That they rise to the occasion shouldn't go against them - rather the State should automatically repay the carers for providing a full-time nursing service to a citizen of our country.

Because carers have an option. Carers could choose to leave their loved ones at the door of a hospital and, in doing so, demand that their ill relative is cared for.

However, this rarely happens because many carers feel that caring for their loved ones is their duty and they are ready and willing to fulfil this duty.

This doesn't mean that carers are willing to fight bureaucrats over services; nor does it mean that they don't feel entitled to have a life as well. It most certainly doesn't mean that society should cynically take advantage of the carers' good nature by ignoring their plight.

Carers aren't in it for the money and so the very idea of any carer needing to fight for services or support is vile.

We cannot plead ignorance any more. We have all heard the stories and we know that many carers are "falling asunder" because they don't have adequate support.

The equation is fairly simple; the carers can do the work properly if and when the State supports the carers appropriately.

By caring for their loved ones, the carers are saving the State a huge amount of money, and so, the State is morally obliged to provide adequate support and services to the carers.

It should be a quid pro quo and maybe, as similar harrowing stories come to light, one day it will be.

Irish Independent

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