Elder advocates release international model human rights convention; will go before UN

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

The Chicago Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons — a proposed international convention that aims to provide legal protections to older persons under international human rights law, was released last week after months of work by legal scholars, human rights advocates and policymakers from more than a dozen countries. Delegates will present the Declaration before the United Nations on August 1.

The Chicago Declaration addresses numerous issues facing the world’s older population, from medical decision-making to abuse. Participants say it is not meant to supersede or diminish any greater rights granted to older persons that may already exist in local, state or national law.

It calls upon nations to raise public awareness and educate older persons of their rights, as well as encourage programs that promote inter-generational relationships. The John Marshall Law School, Roosevelt University and East China University of Political Science and Law jointly supervised the work.

Authors of the declaration write that they are, “…convinced that a comprehensive international convention to promote the rights of older persons will contribute to redressing the profound social disadvantage of older persons and promote their equal participation in the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural life in both developing and developed countries.”

Israel Doron, law professor and head of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Haifa in Israel, said that older persons are subjected to socioeconomic injustice, noting that by 2050 more than a billion people will be living without stable incomes.

“You cannot ignore this phenomenon and you cannot ignore that older people are beginning to play a significant role in our society – something that had not happened in the past,” Doron said in a keynote speech during the 2014 International Elder Law and Policy Conference

Doron argued that now is the time for an international convention on rights for older persons, and that eradicating ageism is not specifically mentioned in any current legally binding international policy.

“Ageism is everywhere,” he said. “Ageism is humiliating. It judges you, not because of who you are, but because of the number above your head.”

The declaration explicitly aims to prevent discrimination and notes the need to protect certain vulnerable populations, including women, religious minorities, those suffering from dementia and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons. The proposed legislation calls for freedom in older persons’ decisions, including quality of life, housing, and health care:

  • Older persons have the right to effective enjoyment of life, the right to live with dignity in old age, and the right to make decisions about the quality of their lives.
  • Older persons have the right to self-determination in health-related matters and to make medical decisions based on informed consent.
  • Older persons have the right to access a range of in-home formal or informal caregiving, residential, and other community support services.

The declaration was unveiled at the end of an annual two-day symposium at John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Click here for research from the conference presenters and the declaration in its current state.

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