The following is a re-post of an article in the UK’s The Guardian and is by Giles Fraser first posted on 28th August 2015
Politicians may have inadvertently stumbled upon a radical new way to address spiralling NHS costs. It’s called assisted dying, and it’s back before the House of Commons again next month. Though, in fact, it’s not a new way at all. Euripides had the same idea 500 years before the birth of Christ: “I hate the men who would prolong their lives / By foods and drinks and charms of magic art / Perverting nature’s course to keep off death / They ought, when they no longer serve the land / To quit this life, and clear the way for youth.”
We have an aging population. Globally, the number of over-65s will triple by 2050. Currently there are four people of working age supporting each pensioner in Britain. By 2050 that dependency ratio will be two to one. As the number of elderly people rapidly expands, so a far greater burden of care will fall on the young. Taxes will rise to meet the demand of pensions and NHS costs. Conflicts over intergenerational fairness will intensify.
No politician will ever come out and say that those who “no longer serve the land” should choose suicide. No, assisted dying, its current proponents insist, must only ever be a personal choice in a very specific set of circumstances. But let us not pretend that this “personal choice” is unaffected by wider economic realities. For as a rapidly expanding elderly population makes increasing demands on healthcare, so the pressure to ration “expensive” treatments will grow – with what counts as expensive being continually recalculated downwards. And here the wider pressure – cultural, social, economic – will inevitably press towards a greater take-up of the suicide option. Yes, it will be a “personal choice”. But it will be a “personal choice” in the same way poorer people have a choice in supermarkets – a choice with few options.