February 23, 2024

Another lurid story from the Lone Star State

As I was drafting this newsletter, another lurid story from Texas popped up on my news feed. Although police are still investigating, it seems that four elderly men may have been kept captive in a suburban dungeon for as long as ten years in a suburb north of Houston. They were living in a group home and the owner was taking their Social Security cheques in exchange for lodging, beer and cigarettes. However, their lodging was a linoleum floor, it had no toilet and there was so little food that three of the men were suffering from malnutrition. They were locked in.

Stories of elder abuse like this are bound to increase as the population ages. With the fracturing of families, many elderly or mentally disabled people are alone in the world. What the Texas case suggests is that there exist people so cold-hearted that they are capable of exploiting their misery. The unfortunate men in Houston were commodities who were worth more alive than dead to their captors.

It strikes me that this is one of the strongest arguments against legalised euthanasia. What if the bottom line had been different? If they were worth more dead than alive? Will carefully drafted laws really stop unscrupulous carers from pressuring vulnerable elderly into accepting euthanasia? It is worth thinking about.

On another note, I’d like to honour the memory of Dr Amin Abboud, a dear friend who died suddenly this week at the age of 48. In 2001 he helped me launch BioEdge, although in those days we called it Australasian Bioethics Information. He was a medical doctor with a deep interest in bioethics. When he passed away he had nearly completed revising his philosophy PhD on Peter Singer’s utilitarianism for a publisher. (He is quite critical, from the bits I have read.) 

In recent years he had very little to do with BioEdge, but we always appreciated his advice and encouragement. In 2006 he was ordained a Catholic priest of the Opus Dei prelature and redirected all his energy into his new tasks. I shall miss him.


Michael Cook
Exploitation of the vulnerable.