A husband and son who stood by listlessly while their female, bedridden relative was reduced from the family’s “tower of strength” to an “emaciated corpse” were declared guilty of causing her death through failure to provide her with the necessary care.
The 73-year-old husband, Salvatore Chircop, and his 47-year-old son Stanley were made to face justice when the police were called in to investigate what appeared to be, at first glance, a suspicious case of extreme neglect.
The story came to light when, one day in June 2014, a 64-year-old woman, Serafina Chircop, who looked as though she was 90 was rushed to hospital in an ambulance, “in moribund state”, blank eyes and her body covered in sores.
Hospital staff at the emergency department were alarmed by the poor state of the patient, who was admitted in critical condition, “in a bad state of hygiene”, her left side covered in sores so deep that her hip bone showed through.
The patient was so dirty that a necklace was stuck to her body, “embedded” in grime.
Although medical staff battled to save her life, the woman passed away four days after her admission, the cause of death being attributed to “cardio respiratory failure caused by malnutrition”.
The police were alerted to the critical case and visited the patient’s family home. They were shocked by the appalling conditions which met their eyes.
The woman, long-suffering from rheumatoid arthritis which had severely hampered her mobility over a seven-year span, had spent the last months of her existence confined to bed, refusing two opportunities for knee replacement surgery and not letting anyone touch her aching body.
Her sister, who had called for the ambulance, later recounted how her sibling had harboured a great fear of doctors and hospital, refusing medication, except for painkillers.
Having been a chain smoker in her better years, the woman would ask her husband to light up a cigarette and hold it to her lips since her enfeebled state did not even allow her to do that.
Yet, her hardheadedness was no excuse for the appalling state in which she was left “to rot, infested with grime, bugs and insects”, lying on soiled sheets which stuck to her ailing body.
The patient’s state was certified by medical and forensic experts who described the patient as an “emaciated corpse”.
In the light of all evidence put forward, the court declared that “any further adjective and/or detail is superfluous”.
When the woman’s husband and son had chosen to care for their relative at home, they took upon themselves “a far greater dose of duty of care”, the court, presided over by magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech observed.
Instead, the woman ended up in an “inhuman and shocking state, suffering from fractures, burns, wounds and extreme filth”, which in turn accelerated her death through pneumonia.
Although not willed by the defendants, their negligence for months on end had doubtlessly given rise to the fragile state of their relative, who had once been their “tower of strength”, the court continued.
Had they exercised the diligence and prudence expected of them, the woman could have been spared such a fate which, though not willful, had been foreseeable, the court observed, declaring father and son guilty and condemning them each to a two-year jail term suspended for four years.
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