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Sydney bishop says at Oxford University: let’s not kill off elderly to cut costs

By on Friday, 19 October 2012

Bishop Fisher: 'Age must not be a criterion of health care distribution' (Photo: PA)

Bishop Fisher: 'Age must not be a criterion of health care distribution' (Photo: PA)

Western nations must resist the pressure to “scapegoat, abandon, even kill, the elderly as a cost-cutting measure”, an Australian bishop has said in a major bioethics lecture.

Bishop Anthony Fisher of Parramatta, Sydney, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said health economists and utilitarian philosophers were placing the elderly at risk by treating them as a “swarm of voracious but unworthy consumers of a resource which doctors must guard from them”.

Delivering the 2012 Anscombe Memorial Lecture at St John’s College, Oxford University, he accused health economists who focused disproportionately on the costs of “showing us how to get most efficiently to the wrong place”.

“In the process we may be led to compromise basic moral principles against killing, harming and abandoning, and favouring respect for the dignity and equality of all, promotion of health, reverence for the elderly and support for the disadvantaged,” Bishop Fisher said in his lecture on Monday.

“We should resist that pressure now by a strong insistence that age will not be a criterion of health care distribution,” he said.

Bishop Fisher concluded that priority of access to care and resources should be granted on the basis of needs, irrespective of age, with more important needs overriding less important demands.

“The elderly are not a problem, a market, a budget: They are real individuals, our own people, our ancestors, in due course – ourselves,” he said.

Bishop Fisher said age rationing would not relieve indefinitely the problem of escalating demands and costs of health care systems.

“Which group will be next for exclusion once those savings have been exhausted?” he asked. “Those with handicaps or those whose social contributions are deemed low?”

In his lecture, arranged by the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, an institute serving the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the bishop rejected arguments that it was unjust to allow rising numbers of elderly to soak up resources that should be allocated to younger people.

His remarks came as concerns mounted about the care of the elderly in the NHS.

In October, British media reported numerous allegations by families that physicians have deliberately hastened the deaths of elderly or terminally ill relatives by withdrawing food and fluids while they were on the Liverpool Care Pathway, an end-of-life process aimed at making the final hours of dying patients as comfortable and free from distress as possible.

The intense media interest was triggered by a formal complaint of attempted murder made by Peter Tulloch to police.

During an unscheduled visit to Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, Mr Tulloch found his mother, Jean, 83, isolated and deprived of food and fluid. He demanded that her fluids were restored, but she died two weeks later.

Such mounting concerns about the Liverpool Care Pathway prompted Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, to write to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, to request a “thorough and urgent investigation” into whether “any corrective action is needed”.

But the Government has refused to launch an inquiry.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “We continue to fully support its proper use as a way of managing a patient’s care with dignity and respect in their last days.”

The Daily Mail has reported that the Government has asked doctors to keep registers of patients they think will die within a year. The purpose, it reported, is to single out such people for care that would allow them to die in comfort rather than prolong their lives with treatment.

Bishop Fisher said the Department of Health reports that 45 per cent of government hospital and community health expenditures go to those over 65, though they are only 16 per cent of the population. He said that as the number of people aged over 65 rises, the strain on the Government will increase proportionately and in absolute terms.

“Across the sea, Medicare for the over-65s will jump from the current 46 million beneficiaries to 79 million by 2030, with costs per person also doubling in the same period,” Bishop Fisher said. “Something, people are saying, has to give.

“Of course we need principles of fairness here and virtues like medical temperance. But to wish we were dead before we are old or that the old were dead so they’d stop burdening us is no anthem for a good society,” he added.

  • daclamat

    I’m 74.  Not much use to anyone really. Collapsed a year ago.. Border collie complained and neighbour
    came round to see what was up. Saved at the cost of double pneumonia and renal failure. Now I carry a card telling them not to bother. To be doubly sure I’m letting them have my mortal remains to learn with.
    Bishop Sydney is talking out of the top of his mitre. But I like his phrase “voracious consumers”. Did he make it up himself? Most bishops get their job at the age the rest of us are retiring. Not surprising since the fellow that appoints them is well past his sell by. He says he’s infallible. So am I, more so every day.
    The Bushmen of the Kalahari have a great idea. When they feel they are past it, and no use to anyone - like bishops - they sneak off and roll up in a porcupine’s nest and wait for a passing hyena. Ecologically sound.

  • Visitor

    God give me strength. Since there is a clear determination to reduce the population by killing us off at both ends ( aided by a silent,complicit media and significant medical professionals who are either themselves too depressed to see value in life or who have an ideological outlook that promotes genocide as a reaction to scarcer,shared resources) it is in the interest of common humanity for the rest of us to live our lives to the full (like John Paul the Great) and assist others to do the same.

  • paulpriest

    I repeat: The reason there is not a national call for reform of the LCP by ‘professional’ Catholics ‘in the loop’ is due to a distorted utilitarian wish to save lives….

    Prof David Albert Jones & Peter Saunders have made it very clear

    If one says the LCP is backdoor euthanasia it will be gold-dust for the pro-euthanasia lobby
    a] they will say euthanasia is already normative practice
    b] as it is a drawn-out painful form of passive euthanasia – in this age of pain reduction and utility – surely it will be better to immediately eliminate all patient suffering by direct actie euthanasia [e.g. via injection] at a time decided by the patient [and consequently ther family, or an ad litum, or the clinician, or the diagnostic team, or the ethics committee, or a judge, or by act of parliament]

    i.e. they believe that conceding there are euthanising aspects of a badly structured unsafe LCP will play into the hands of the pro-Euthanasia lobby and make assisted suicide and active euthanasia legislation more likely…

    …therefore repeatedly deny there is anything wrong with the LCP

    State collective support from various charities, the medical establishment or ethical ‘celebrities’ – validates it as ‘ok because we say so’

    Repeat that it conforms with Catholic teaching and Papal directives [when it blatantly doesn't - http://onthesideoftheangels.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-liverpool-care-pathway-is-backdoor.html ]

    Whisper against all those who have claimed problems with the LCP – by saying they’re wrong, mistaken, ignorant or if that doesn’t work – they’re liars – and dangerous ones risking the whole palliative care movement and playing into the euthanasia lobby’s hands….

    It’s the Caiaphas corollary – for the best of intentions our ‘great and good’ are either staying silent or vociferously defending the LCP – because they don’t want assisted suicide and active euthanasia being made legal…

    but people are being murdered via the LCP

    and the price of this euthanasia is too high – irrespective of the consequences of admitting it’s happening in hospitals and hospices across the land…

     These people are trying to save the lives of future millions by denying and suppressing the murder of thousands on the LCP…

    ….and despite their best intentions – This is EVIL!

  • Tonia Marshall

    Anthony Fisher became a bishop at 43. This post would be one comment fewer without you so  look after yourself! x

  • andHarry

     Mind you, if you are a Christian it ultimately matters not whether you die comfortably, or are beaten to death, or give both your kidneys away. While a comfortable end would be the choice generally, your concern is presumably overwhelmingly for the unconverted who die in their sins, and who will eventually end up in the lake of fire; unless you can stage a last-ditch rescue?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Very sorry to hear of your health worries. You’re of use here, at least!

  • Rich

    I, for one, am looking forward to more posts from you, not that I necessarily agree with them but I do like them. Keep ‘em coming please!!

  • Kevin

    we may be led to compromise basic moral principles against killing

    That ship sailed in 1967. We are currently in Year 44 of the Revolution.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     You have to stay alert so that you may yet look after your best mate border collie.
    Keep warm this winter ,with your dog, and make sure you get good western medicine. My own father, at 96, is still using the computer and in touch as well as living at home.
     Have someone come in to see you every day so you may be helped if falling ill.Not all illness is the final act. I am sure that the Bushmen all want mobile phones and would prefer western medicine than being eaten by hyenas, but I could be wrong.
     I hope to see a post every day on this site and be looking foreward, like Rich, to reading it and your thoughts.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     in ‘reply’ to daclamat

  • GFFM

    In the film Solyent Green, which is the final film of Edward G. Robinson, there is an eerie scene of what can only be called a euthanasia center. The place described in the film is eerily similar to what is called the Care Pathway described above.

  • Frankmccamley

    In case we forget, that we will be that age, how we want to be treated?

  • Parasum

    From some POVs, infanticide, genocide & similar delights are a very good idea. If other animals can be culled – why exclude man ?  The pioneering undertaken in the Third Reich provides suggestions as to how this might done.

    From a different POV, such a suggestion is utterly vile. ISTM that in order to make the case that needs making on behalf of the weakest members of society, it is necessary to think as Devil’s Advocate, and to think what arguments can be put  on the other side. Because, they will be made, if not now, then eventually. A society in which unborn infants can regarded as “aggressors”, for the high crime and misdemeanour of being conceived, is one in which the elderly can be regarded in exactly the same way, and as parasites, users of resources much needed elsewhere (though on what, people are never told). What could be more “unproductive” than someone who is senile,incontinent, & utterly helpless ? In a society that attaches no stigma to throwing away “disused” bits of unborn baby, and “harvests” bits and pieces from embryos, as though they were sets of Meccano or Airfix, what is going to prevent Granny being “put down”, or culled, in order to make her/its bed available ?

    Certainly not compassion. Compassion is no longer a virtue – it’s been “re-branded”; it is now called “body Fascism” or “partronising”, or “racism”. Everyone is the same – we are all Airfix people now, if a little more expensive. People are messy, the “infestation” that is man harms Gaia/Mother Earth. So it is perfectly reasonable to clear the infestation away. Compassion ? No such thing – it’s a socially constructed attitude, and nothing more. It is far more compassionate to put the old dears down, so they won’t suffer any longer. Such is the unreason at the heart of this anti-human nihilism.

    The society that forgets God, is quite likely not to remember what is due to man. Such a society is always the rule of some men, over other men.  Societies that were Christian can get on without God for a while, because they do not lose their Christian impetus all at once. Other ideas will seem far more attractive in a society whose Christianity is slowly unravelling - once those other ideas have largely replaced Christian ones, the Christian ones will look petty, absurd, & monstrous.   

  • Parasum

    But if evil doesn’t exist – then it isn’t evil; just “unacceptable”.

    “These people are trying to save the lives of future millions by denying and suppressing the murder of thousands on the LCP…”

    ## It’s amazing that this way of thinking is so persuasive. It is the Saruman Gambit. It completely ignores the tendency of bad acts to become bad habits, and then become justifiable because they are habits.

    If people don’t not kill actually existing people, why makes them think they will not kill hypothetical not-yet-existent millions of people ? If you don’t want to become the Dark Lord Sauron – don’t mess with the Ring even once. To do so, simply weakens the strength of the user to resist its attraction in the future.

    Modern life becomes very interesting, if seen as a replay of the War of the Ring – and very alarming. And people criticise the book for not being like “”real life” ! It’s far more realistic than any novel.

  • JabbaPapa

    I fully expect to be treated like just another random lump of meat by these sorts of people in my old age — but then, was The Christ treated any differently by His executioners ?

  • Holly

    daclamat what a cruel society we live in where you feel at 74 you are useless.
    I wish someone could help you.

  • Robin Leslie

    The New elites have already earned the contempt they richly deserve and should they continue down this particular pathway they will find their road blocked. Citizen’s surveillance of medical care and of organized Science generally should probe the ideological distortions and uses of scientific practice. There is nowhere now for Science and technology to hide, nor for globalizing Capitalism. The game is up, there is NO final solution!!