Thursday, 17 September 2009

Should People Commit Suicide When They Get Old?

Looking after the old and the infirm is one of the core values of almost all human societies. In many ”developed” welfare societies with a growing army of the aged, this responsibility and respect is fast being replaced by an attitude of seeing humans not involved in economic production as excesss burden to be got rid of.

Changes in How Societies View the Care of the Aged

In some European countries and the US, the chronically ill were herded into large, impersonal and often abusive settings, out of sight. With improved economic conditions and the voice of women after the World Wars, the approach in health care for those unable to care for themselves started changing. But now, with the growing number of those who need care, most countries have to balance the strictures of costs as well as consider cultural and ethnic differences and traditions.

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The pressure of productivity is eroding core societal values also. The right to enjoy a meaningful, reasonably healthy and safe years of old age as long as one lives is fast being replaced by the refusal of the healthy and the younger to support the aged and infirm. The right to being cared for as long as one lives is fast being replaced by an attitude of ”Get rid of excess burden!”

Attitudes Towards Care of the Aged Have Hardened

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Do people in their working life feel that the increasing demands of staying productive and contributing to a production oriented way of life is sapping all their resources? Do they feel guilty that they have no energy and resources for taking care of the aged and infirm? Is there a hardening of attitudes, where people do not see their parents’ efforts at providing them a fair chances of making a good life as sacrifices?

One often hears from people (usually very unhappy themselves) that 
”I don’t think my parents made any sacrifices. It is their duty to provide material well-being to their children. I didn’t ask to be born. It is the responsibility of the state to take care of them. That’s why we pay so high taxes.”
In Finland, a wealthy and popular woman author, Kaari Utrio, recently caused terror in the hearts of the elderly by suggesting that citizens who are ’old’ should be given euthanasia sleeping pills so that they don’t linger in hospital beds as a burden for others. In the Finnish language discussion forums of the country’s most popular evening paper Ilta Sanomat, 62% of the 28 474 (retrieved on 12.9.2009 at 10:54) respondents accept the voluntary suicide of the infirm and aged.

  • 15% of people over 65 are in long-term care systems in the Nordic countries, while 
  • 0,6% to 3% are the figures for Korea, Italy and Eastern Europe where state provided facilities do not exist.

Neglect Your Parents and Go to Prison in Some Countries

In 1995, the wealthy state of Singapore passed the Maintenance of Parents Act to give parents above 60 years old, who could not support themselves, the legal means to claim maintenance from their children.
  • About two out of three of parents who took their children to court were Chinese. 
  • Indians made up at least 14 per cent, and Malays at least 9 per cent.
Maharashtra and 15 other states of India have the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, a central government legislation, which provides for imprisonment for neglecting parents and senior citizens.
  • The number of cases has risen up from 79 cases in 2006 to 127 cases in 2008.

Issues about Caring For the Elderly and Aging

No one can stay young and agile eternally. In the evening time of life, one begins to lose one’s nimbleness and agility, the capacity for hard physical work and the fuller use of sensory faculties are limited for some people. It is a time for reflection on the larger questions of life. No university teaches us how live life well and then prepare for what Shakespeare calls The undiscovered country.
  • Does interaction with the aged produce a sense of continuity in the younger and transmit deeper cultural values? 
Not all old men are wise and neither are all old women gentle and kind. Only few of the aged manage to free themselves of regrets, guilt and unrealised expectations and fewer still can distill their life experience and communicate anything valuable to the younger generations.

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The concept of the right to die and Death with Dignity Act of the State of Orgeon in USA should not be confused with an attitude of selfishness and non-caring towards towards our elders. Euthanasia is an extremely complicated issue with deep moral undertones and social implications.

Though the new capitalism erodes a sustained sense of purpose and trust in other people, and fragments the integrity of the self, taking care of one’s aged and the infirm remains one of the core values of humankind. 

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Studies reveal that more than half of Britons would care for ageing partners, sick parents or friends at some point in their lives.

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