Medical technology, first developed in the 19th century and widely applied, often with the best of intentions but often also with obscure agendas — such as due to colonisation and missionary work — has been the inadvertent cause . . . of massive world over-population as the restraints of agricultural cultures (e,g, disease, deaths of mothers and children at birthing) were overcome.
Today, we are experiencing its consequences such as large-scale starvation and under-nutrition, savage civil wars in many countries and, more recently, mass migration of people from unadvanced countries into the advanced ones where, sometimes jobs, but usually state welfare schemes, are available.
There are also serious consequences in the advanced countries, principally of increasing numbers of people surviving into extreme old age, well beyond their economic capabilities. Where old people retain their personalities and are either rich enough to afford professional care until termination or are lucky enough to have supportive family care, all is well and good — or at least attainable — at the present time.
But where old people have lost their personalities and are, effectively, unresponsive human beings, or have become totally physically dependent on the personal help of others, then more of them can’t be, or are refused to be, supported by their children — if they have any — and have now become dependent on the welfare state. This is because the idea of a “soul” still lingers in the largely ex-Christian advanced countries and that a body must be kept alive at all costs.
But as is now becoming apparent, care standards in local authority old people’s homes and also in central authority hospitals are seriously declining from year to year — despite repeated official enquiries and attempts to improve conditions. Governments can no longer afford to pay good wages to carers — either residential ones or those who attend old people still in their own himes — then resentment and subsequent ill-teatment of old people are growing. Meanwhile, demands grow even higher.
In pre-agricultural societies the problem of old people who had become too demanding and thus depriving others of their necessary activities — obtaining food, raising children and (importantly) socialising — was always effectively dealt with. This was either by neglect — deprivation of food, for example — or by culling in one way or another. Although this is regarded with horror in modern cultures it is, because of its universality, as reported by anthropologists, a perfectly natural instinct.
Instinct or not, the euthanasia of old people is now growing apace. In 1935, when Lord Moynihan and Dr Killick Millard founded the British Voluntary Euthanasia Society, the idea that assisted suicide should be legitimised was first proposed and has grown rapidly ever since. And now, in 2015, the Assisted Dying Act is very close to being passed, after four earlier attempts. In any case, since 1935, with the help of sympathetic family doctors, assisted suicide has been growing privately at home, even to the extent of shortening life when an old person is in irreducible pain and is shortly due to die anyway.
Then, too, these practices had been quietly growing in hospices and national health service hospitals, initiated particularly in the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and Liverpool’s Marie Curie Hospice, the protocol being known as the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP). In the wider national health service, LCP has been open to some abuse, particularly in the more badly managed hospitals. In order to prevent public concern growing and the possible outlawing of LCP, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) was brought into play and it has rescued LCP from possible oblivion by instituting more careful rules as to its practice.
In reality, LCP is probably already verging into euthanasia in many cases, kindly meant and often — probably mostly — fully appreciated by the families of the old people concerned. This is still nowhere near the practice of involuntary euthanasia, technically culling, but it is getting very close. It cannot be too long before the pre-agricultural practice concerning old people will be restored — that is, in modern times when they become too much of a physical, financial or emotional burden It’s my guess that, although it may take until the year 2100 before euthanasia is embedded into modern culture and subseqjuently legalised, it will have become widely practised long before then, such has been the celerity with which the notion has proceeded so far.