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Navigating the Real World

Hearts of the City / Exploring attitudes and issues behind the news : A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of philosophy, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

June 28, 1995

Today's question: What ethical or religious tenets should guide a decision on whether to place an elderly parent in a nursing home?

The Rev. Ignacio Castuera, senior pastor at Hollywood United Methodist Church.

"Multicultural L.A. is the perfect place to consider this. To recently arrived Latinos and Asians the idea of placing a loved one in a nursing facility is repugnant. Many times the reasons for such aversion will be presented as ethical or religious when in fact they are primarily culture- and time-influenced. The No. 1 ethical concern should be what is the most loving thing one can do for this person, meaning who can best provide the services needed for the person's well being? With the economic and familial pressures here, health care professionals can do a much better job than the most loving and well meaning of relatives.

Father Thomas P. Rausch, chairman of the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

"The Fourth's Commandment's obligation to honor one's parents does not end with adulthood. Unfortunately, there can come a time when the needs of an aging parent exceed what a son or daughter can provide at home, even with outside help, and it becomes necessary to provide professional care in a nursing facility. The real tragedy is not that the elderly must sometimes be placed there, but that they are so often abandoned, left without the personal and moral support they so much need. Important considerations include the quality of the facility, the attitudes of the staff toward their parents, and the kind of care and recreational programs provided. Most of all, each member of the family needs to find some way to be present and supportive to the elderly parent.

Prof. Elliot Dorff, rector and professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism.

"While people often understand the Bible's demand to 'honor your father and mother' as referring to little children obeying their parents, the Jewish tradition interprets the verse to require that adult children take care of their elderly parents. If possible, one should do that personally, for personal presence is itself a form of honor. One may, however, hire others to care for one's parents, if the children assure that the care is not only good, but compassionate, and if the children visit or phone their parents regularly."

Compiled by LARRY B. STAMMER/Times Staff Writer

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