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Too many are living too long

By Brian Holden - posted Friday, 28 May 2010

A man is standing in a queue outside one of the few free clinics in Mumbai. The overwhelming problem in his life is the six-year-old girl on his hip. She has a congenital extruding bowel and has the body weight of a four-year-old. Any surgeon who saw the problem would know that the repair required was a simple procedure. But, in Mumbai, that procedure will probably never be performed on this child of a father without money - because each day that the father stands in line, he does not get to the doctor before the free clinic closes.

Another man is in a nursing home in Sydney. His stay is entering its third year. He can barely move. Each morning two nurses have to clean his body before dressing the huge bed sore on his backside. The whole procedure takes about 30 minutes. His frail form is then lifted into a recliner where he will remain until after dinner. Except for being spoon-fed at lunchtime and dinnertime, he seems to stare blankly into space. His daughter feels obliged to visit him once a week to hold his hand for a few minutes - while thinking of the good times once had.

Hopefully, that man standing in the queue in Mumbai, with his child on his hip and her skinny arms around his neck, does not know of what it costs to keep an octogenarian in a vegetative state in Sydney.


As an elderly person, the vision of the day when I will be under intensive care due to my age is becoming more real to me. Our society is set-up to provide the service - but I wish that it was not. Once past the age of 80 years, nobody should have a right to any public money to keep their failing bodies alive. Free of pain? Yes. Minor procedures under local anaesthetic? Yes. But not intensive care.

And, if I have a major stroke, then while I have my wits about me, I will curse right now the law which prevents a pitying person from strangling me.

We all hope we can remain vigorous into our 80s, but if we are old and serious malfunctions occur, then it is nature telling us that it is time to leave. Once a person’s expectation to live goes, unimpeded nature ensures that death comes relatively quickly. It would do that if others did not feel driven to use chemistry and engineering to keep our blood oxygenated and circulating.

Ask any carer, nurse, doctor or relative the question: “Why?” The answer will be, “because that is the way it has to be”. Would there be a sillier explanation for the application of any science?

Arguing the case for “80 and out”

To some, the Mumbai example above would be a sufficient argument - but to most, only what is happening in Western cultures is relevant.

The historical argument

The average lifespan in prehistoric Europe was 18. Farming replaced gathering and livestock replaced hunting, so that during the Roman Empire, it had doubled to 36. In England in 1820 it was 41, and 50 by 1900. In the context of history, anybody today who reaches the age of 80, has had far more than his or her fair share.

Until about 150 years ago most parents had lost several of their children before those children had reached the age of 20. This was a blow far greater than the loss of parents. If you object to an “80 and out” policy applying to your parents, then your refusal to let go of your need for your elderly parents is being held within an historic anomaly.

The current burden argument
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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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