Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Aid and Age

Here's a misleading headline for you: 'Treatment based on need not age':
"The BMA is against blanket bans based on age or other arbitrary factors. It is outrageous to suggest that just because someone is old that they would not have a right to be considered for treatment." ... Dr Calland's comments follow reports that in a survey of 870 doctors (carried out by Doctor magazine) one in three said that elderly patients should not be given free treatment if it were unlikely to do them good for long.

Dr. Calland's comments here seem kind of daft. Age is very obviously not an "arbitrary" factor. If resources are scarce, and we have to decide between investing in one patient to grant them an extra couple of years of quality life, or another patient who would gain several decades of quality life, isn't the latter clearly the greater need?

To generalize, I think it is much more important for a society to invest in their youth than in their elderly. This holds across sectors as well as within, e.g., the health sector. (Education should be a higher priority than hip replacements, etc.) It's unfortunate that such trade-offs need to be made, of course. Ideally, we should want everyone to be maximally well-off. But, failing that, we should do the most good that we can. And pretending that these trade-offs don't exist is not the way to achieve this.


  1. De Tocqueville said that in Democracy the ancient art of holding power is reduced to two rules, claim to favor equality and make war. I would add a third rule, for both retaining power in a Democracy and remaining politically correct enough to avoid attack for the sake of scapegoating. This rule is "deny the existence of tradeoffs. Assert that all things and all actions are entirely good or entirely bad".


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