Lessons from Nebraska’s Struggle With an Abandoned Baby Law

In the past few years, many states have passed legislation allowing parents of newborns to drop their infants off at a designated safe place, no questions asked. These laws are intended to prevent the tragedy of unwanted newborns that have been literally left to die in dumpsters, public toilets, and similar places, usually by panicked teenage parents. Nebraska is the most recent state to pass such a law, but whether by negligence or design, the Nebraska statute did not specify a maximum age of a child who could be left at a safe place without legal repercussions to the parents. In a turn of events that would be comical if it weren’t so sad, Nebraska has seen a parade of 17 different children dropped off at designated hospitals: none of them have been infants, and most have been adolescents. Since Nebraska’s legislature is part-time and does not resume session until January, there may be more drop-offs before the law can be amended.

What’s going on here, and what can we learn from it?

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“Elderspeak”: Guarding Against Condescension Towards Our Clients

Yesterday’s New York Times had an article discussing the phenomenon of “Elderspeak,” defined as the belittling, condescending, and falsely nice and cheerful way many people talk when they are addressing older adults.  The pattern is easily recognizable to anyone who has every accompanied a gray-haired relative on any errand or to an appointment: quick use of the elderly person’s first name, unnaturally loud voice, talking slowly, or unwanted endearments like “dearie,” “gramps,” or “good girl.”  According to researchers quoted in the article, these methods of address are not only resented by the elderly people who are faced with them, but elderspeak may actually produce more negative images of aging.  “And those who have more negative images of aging have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival” (Dr. Becca Levy, quoted in the article).

While the article is particularly critical of health care professionals for falling into the elderspeak trap, it also cites examples from other settings, including stores and restaurants.  Lawyers are not singled out, but there are lessons for us here as well.

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Suicide and Inheritance: A New Ruling by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals

Last week, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Wisconsin ruled on a case involving a testator (Edward Schunk) who committed suicide and the inheritance rights of the family who survived him. Apparently, Edward was on a one-day pass from a hospital when he was found dead in a cabin which he owned. The death resulted from a single, self-inflicted shotgun blast to his chest. His will left property to his wife, to his daughter from his second marriage, and to some (but not all) of his six older children who were not Linda’s children. Five of those older children challenged the inheritance by the second wife (Linda) and child from that marriage (Megan) on the grounds that they had aided Edward in committing suicide, and thus should be barred from inheriting under a Wisconsin statute that forbids inheritance by persons who unlawfully and intentionally kill the decedent. Linda and Megan denied providing any help to the decedent’s suicidal act, and asserted that Edward had taken his gun and gone to the cabin without their knowledge.

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