In the northern-most reaches of Sweden and Finland when farming families thought that they might not have had enough food to survive the winter they would clonk the eldest member on the head. Families had special rock-sites for this and, at the final ceremony, each member of the family, according to their age, would hold the club, the next eldest nearest the club end. This is one of many different euthanasia customs in both farming societies and hunter-gatherer groups when in survival extremis.
Increasingly, in more prosperous times we have not needed to practise euthanasia in order for society to be able to survive economically during inclement periods. The necessity, however, is gradually creeping towards us as we find that we can’t maintain old persons’ homes with the dignity and care that the law expects. Every few months — in this ‘advanced’ country at least — we read yet another official report of the cruelty and suffering going on either by neglect or by physical torture by an increasing number of untrained, badly paid ‘carers’.
It is not beyond the wit of man to devise some reasonable guidelines for kindly euthanasia to be delivered when an old person is becoming too great an emotional, physical or economic burden to be kept alive in a dignified manner — or, indeed, when an old person has lost all signs of personality. A lot of it goes on already beneath the law — kindly or cruelly given, We really need a Euthanasia Society to start collecting evidence and discussion in order to start formulating civilized criteria against the inevitable day when governments are too strapped for cash to sustain all old people, and when euthanasia will be regularised and culturally acceptable.