Brief Thoughts on Elder Abuse & Harper Lee


An elderly woman (source: Pixabay)

Harper Lee has been in the news a lot this week, with the release of her book Go Set a Watchman, her first release since  her beloved tale, To Kill a Mockingbird.

When publishers said Lee, who hadn’t released a book in half a century and who had said she never planned to write another book, decided to publish her original novel, eyebrows were raised. People said Lee was being taken advantage of by her publisher and her lawyer. There was so much hue and cry that the state of Alabama investigated. Was Lee a victim of elder abuse so the publisher could unjustly enrich itself?

Nope, according to investigators. Ms. Lee was quite in her right mind and able to understand what was going on. She was content with the events taking place.

Yet, after the book was published, the rumors that Ms. Lee had been hoodwinked persisted. They came to the forefront with force once people got hold of Watchman. Atticus Finch, who had acted as the moral center of Mockingbird,  was a racist in Watchman. Lee couldn’t possibly have wanted that, the critics said. There were also complaints that the book didn’t read well, that it appeared to have been pieced together, and wasn’t really Lee’s complete work that she authorized.

While the circumstances make it easy to jump on the Lee-has-been-taken-advantage-of bandwagon, I can’t. Why? Because the charge has been investigated by the state in which Lee lives. An agency tasked with looking after the welfare of the elderly has said she’s just  fine. I suppose I could be a conspiracy theorist and say they’re in cahoots with the publisher. But, I am not a conspiracy theorist.

I am, however, a person who believes that getting old doesn’t mean you no longer have the ability to make decisions important to your life. I believe that people can have moments in their life where they realize they’d like to do something different, that perhaps they were wrong in their previous assertions.

There are definitely elderly people who have suffered a mental decline and get taken advantage of. If anyone sees someone they believe to be in that situation, they should contact authorities. But, it’s a slippery slope when you say to someone: “because I disagree with your decision, you are incompetent.” If the officials charged with protecting her have said there are not problems with her decision-making, then I have to go with that.  If more questionable decisions occur, I suppose one could ask authorities to go back, but it can’t be a witch hunt of constant complaints until the elderly person is declared incompetent.

If you survive long enough to be of an advanced age, you deserve some respect. You deserve the right to make decisions for yourself. People who dislike your caretakers shouldn’t be able to accuse you of being incapable of making decisions just because of that dislike. Elderly people have the right to make decisions that are different than decisions they’ve made in the past, because they’ve seen a lot in life.

Yes, we should protect elderly people from being abused and taken advantage of, if they’re suffering from decline. But, we also have to remember that a person making decisions we disagree with is not automatically a sign that the person lacks competence or is experiencing undue influence.



About RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist who now writes fiction. She's reported for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, as well as the smaller publications Education Technology News and Campus Crime. She has two published novels, Life First and Second Life and blogs for Indies Unlimited and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. For exclusive content and first looks at her new work, sign up for the newsletter at
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2 Responses to Brief Thoughts on Elder Abuse & Harper Lee

  1. Not that I am not aware of you, but I was led here by Indies Unlimited, and this post caught my attention immediately. I like it, because I agree with it.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Thanks for the comment, Venkatesh. I think elders can get to the point that they need protection from unscrupulous people, but if they don’t reach that point, we need to respect their decisions.

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