May 28, 2024

Inhumane treatment of elderly in UK hospitals

Hi there,

What drives people to consider
assisted suicide and euthanasia is the thought of becoming dependent and
undignified. Speaking personally, I would respond that dependence of one sort
or another is part of the human condition and that a caring and compassionate
society will not allow people to die without dignity.

But I have to admit that this week’s
report on care for the elderly in institutions run by the National Health Service
takes the wind out of my sails. There is a danger of sensationalising its
horrifying stories: surely not every elderly person in UK hospitals is treated with
heartless bureaucratic inhumanity. But the picture that the Health Service Ombudsman
paints is bleak:

“The reasonable
expectation that an older person or their family may have of dignified,
pain-free end of life care, in clean surroundings in hospital is not being
fulfilled. Instead, these accounts present a picture of NHS provision that is
failing to meet even the most basic standards of care.”

In increasingly atomised and
cash-strapped Western nations, I fear that things will only get worse. Pressure
for euthanasia is bound to grow – but not because it is a human right, as
alleged by campaigners, but because it will make caring for unproductive
elderly cheaper. As the proportion of over-65s soars in the coming decades,
will there be a greater challenge in bioethics?

Michael Cook