August 12, 2022

If you can change your sex, why can’t you change your age?

Wouldn’t it stop ageism?

You might recall the case of Emile Ratelband, a 69-year-old Dutch “positivity guru”, who hit upon a stunt which put him in headlines around the world. He applied to a court to slash 20 years off his age because he felt 49. It was obviously a back-handed response to the transgender agenda of requesting a legal change in sex.

Mr Ratelband lost his case. “Mr Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly,” a court ruled. “But amending his date of birth would cause 20 years of records to vanish from the register of births, deaths, marriages and registered partnerships. This would have a variety of undesirable legal and societal implications.”

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Joona Räsänen, a Finnish bioethicist working at the University of Oslo, begs to differ. He contends that “at least on some occasions it is possible to give a moral justification for legal age change.” He bases his argument on the harm of discrimination. Being able to change one’s age would be a way to prevent, stop or reduce ageism. 

Such an unconventional thesis immediately attracts objections. Age is a biological fact which cannot be changed. What about workplace safety? What if people became older rather than younger – wouldn’t that be psychologically dangerous? This is a slippery slope to height change. What if people abused this facility to claim old age pensions?

Räsänen rebuts all of these objections. Although a lot of work would be required to draft legislation specifying the exact circumstances for age changes, he believes that he has proved that it should sometimes be permitted:

I have argued that in some cases people should be allowed to change their legal age. Such cases would be when the person genuinely feels his felt age differs significantly from his chronological age and the person’s biological age is recognised to be significantly different from his chronological age and age change would prevent, reduce or stop ageism, the discrimination due to age, he would otherwise confront.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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ageism
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