UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is to launch a legal review of euthanasia (assisted suicide), in a bid to end what he refers to as ‘the longevity trap’.
The UK government currently spends £74bn a year on pensions, and the average retired household costs the NHS more than double that of a working household. The government argues that the review creates an opportunity to reduce these costs while addressing a controversial matter of human dignity.
Mr Grayling spoke of the plans on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme earlier today.
“We have come to the stage where 40,000 elderly people are selling their homes each year to pay for end of life care costs. It seems only fair to give the elderly the option to avoid the longevity trap, and choose to use that money to provide a financial legacy for their families.”
The review has received an unexpectedly cool response by leading campaign group Dignity in Dying. A statement issued by the group this afternoon stated:
“While we welcome consideration of the legal position for those affected by assisted suicide, we strongly oppose the terms of reference for the review announced by the Ministry of Justice. Any such review should be based on principles of personal dignity and liberty, not cutting costs.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith, co-sponsor of the review, challenged this view in an interview for Sky News about the review. Mr Duncan Smith said:
“It is simply absurd to suggest that this would be solely a financial decision. However, we must recognise the reality. Almost two out of every three pounds spent by the Department of Work and Pensions is spent on pensions, health care, and other age related benefits – and the elderly population is growing. We have to question how sustainable this is. The important thing here is that this is about choice. Elderly people should have the right to choose.”
The review received strong criticism from the UK’s leading Unions and age charities. Len McCluskey of Unite spoke out against the review at a public meeting:
“This is what we have come to? We don’t want to fund elderly care so we will ask them to sacrifice their lives to cut the costs? These are people who have worked all their lives, paid into a system, on the promise that they will be taken care of when their turn came. They have been betrayed.”
These sentiments were echoed by Sheryl Bonham, Chief Executive of Age UK, one of the country’s most prominent age related charities. Ms Bonham, in a piece for the Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section, wrote:
“The role of the elderly in modern British society is a national disgrace. Once an honoured group, our elderly were considered senior citizens with wisdom and experience to share with the younger generations. Now they are dismissed as nothing more than a drain on resources. It seems increasingly the case that human value is being calculated on ability to earn, with all other attributes – care, experience, wisdom – ignored.”
The Ministry of Justice will assemble a panel including members from the judiciary, parliament, the House of Lords and the charities sector to review the legal position on assisted suicide. The Panel is expected to issue a report of findings at the end of the summer recess.
This piece is satire, but those of us concerned by the reduction of human values associated with the government’s commitment to ideological austerity must ask – for how long?