State Can’t Force Elderly Woman to Move to Nursing Home, Court Rules

The government tries to remove hundreds of single elderly people from their homes against their will every year, because nursing care for the elderly poor can only be state-financed in nursing homes

Emma Zaslavsky, a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor, at her house in Be’er Sheva, on Monday, July 15, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A 97-year-old Holocaust survivor cannot be removed from her home and sent to a nursing home against her will because doing so would violate her fundamental rights, a court has ruled.

The state has been trying to relocate Emma Zaslavsky for about two years, and has asked the Be’er Sheva Family Court for a court order to do so every few months. Each time, Zaslavsky’s lawyer, Ella Sheinfeld of the Justice Ministry’s legal aid department, would have to visit her at home and give the court a report on her situation.

Her predicament isn’t unique. The government tries to remove hundreds of single elderly people from their homes against their will every year, because under a policy set by the Health and Social Affairs ministries, nursing care for the elderly poor can only be state-financed in nursing homes and not in the patients’ own homes.

Judge Alon Gabizon lambasted this policy in his ruling, saying that removing someone from her home against her will violates “her dignity, her freedom and her right to decide her own fate in her old age.”

Moreover, he noted, putting Zaslavsky in a nursing home would cost far more than hiring a worker to care for her at home.

“In my view, it’s time for the legislature to review the existing legislative situation and make adjustments that conform to the elderly person’s desire and basic rights, and which are also cheaper for the public purse,” he wrote.

Meytal Segal-Reich, who heads the legal aid department’s program for the elderly, said she was pleased with the court’s conclusion that “solutions for ending one’s life at home – if a person so chooses – exist, and it’s our duty as a society to implement them.”

The case began in August 2017, when the state first asked that Zaslavsky be transferred to a nursing home. In October 2017, in an unprecedented decision, the court rejected this request and demanded that the state come up with a plan to care for her at home.

But every few months the state went back to court and asked it to reconsider its refusal to remove her from her home. This prompted Gabizon to personally visit Zaslavsky at home in February 2018, after which he once again rejected the state’s request.

“Removing an elderly person from his home against his will is experienced by him as a violent, aggressive action,” he wrote at the time. Therefore, he said, “it must be a last resort.”

In February 2019, the state went back to court after a geriatric specialist concluded that Zaslavsky couldn’t live alone and needed a caregiver or some other form of daily assistance. Although she is entitled to some hours of home nursing care from the state, this care is only available on weekdays. If she wanted the service on weekends as well, Zaslavsky would have to pay 140 shekels ($40) per hour – an unaffordable sum for someone living off of social security, as she does.

A state-appointed guardian therefore tried to persuade her to move to a nursing home, but she refused, saying it would be “the end of her life.” The guardian then launched a crowdfunding campaign that raised 200,000 shekels to pay for a caregiver, who moved in with her in May.

But Gabizon said it was improper to rely on crowdfunding campaigns to cover care that ought to be funded by the state.

In January 2018, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by the legal aid department asking it to bar the state from removing elderly people from their homes against their will, saying that such a change had to be enacted through legislation.

When Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz was asked by Haaretz and Labor lawmakers Itzik Shmuli and Nachman Shai whether he would support such a change, he answered in the affirmatiave. But so far, the law remains as it was.