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Quote of the Week

May 18, 2010

Thomas Sowell is one of the rare creatures who manage to be highly educated and not turn his ethics on their head as a result of it:

One of the many fashionable notions that have caught on among some of the intelligentsia is that old people have “a duty to die,” rather than become a burden to others.

This is more than just an idea discussed around a seminar table. Already the government-run medical system in Britain is restricting what medications or treatments it will authorize for the elderly. Moreover, it seems almost certain that similar attempts to contain runaway costs will lead to similar policies when American medical care is taken over by the government.

Make no mistake about it, letting old people die is a lot cheaper than spending the kind of money required to keep them alive and well. If a government-run medical system is going to save any serious amount of money, it is almost certain to do so by sacrificing the elderly.

There was a time– fortunately, now long past– when some desperately poor societies had to abandon old people to their fate, because there was just not enough margin for everyone to survive. Sometimes the elderly themselves would simply go off from their family and community to face their fate alone.

But is that where we are today?

Talk about “a duty to die” made me think back to my early childhood in the South, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. One day, I was told that an older lady– a relative of ours– was going to come and stay with us for a while, and I was told how to be polite and considerate towards her.

She was called “Aunt Nance Ann,” but I don’t know what her official name was or what her actual biological relationship to us was. Aunt Nance Ann had no home of her own. But she moved around from relative to relative, not spending enough time in any one home to be a real burden.

At that time, we didn’t have things like electricity or central heating or hot running water. But we had a roof over our heads and food on the table– and Aunt Nance Ann was welcome to both.

Poor as we were, I never heard anybody say, or even intimate, that Aunt Nance Ann had “a duty to die.”

I only began to hear that kind of talk decades later, from highly educated people in an affluent age, when even most families living below the official poverty level owned a car or truck and had air-conditioning.

It is today, in an age when homes have flat-panelled TVs, and most families eat in restaurants regularly or have pizzas and other meals delivered to their homes, that the elites– rather than the masses– have begun talking about “a duty to die.”

Back in the days of Aunt Nance Ann, nobody in our family had ever gone to college. Indeed, none had gone beyond elementary school. Apparently you need a lot of expensive education, sometimes including courses on ethics, before you can start talking about “a duty to die.”

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