Dominic Lawson: A modest proposal for the benefit of the elderly

In Trollope's novel, the president of Brittanula believes that compulsory euthanasia at the age of 67 will solve all his nation's future problems of poverty

Share
Related Topics

Among the most interesting documents released today, 28 June 2041, under the 30-year rule concerning the release of government papers, is the following memorandum from the senior special advisor to the then Chancellor George Osborne:

"Chancellor, you asked me to outline for Cabinet's discussion of the imminent publication of the Dilnot Commission's report on the funding of care for the elderly, the salient demographic and financial issues and the most cost-effective solution, fitting these straitened times.

"At the beginning of the last century there were just 61,000 British men and women over the age of 85. Today there are 1.5 million over-85s. In 20 years' time we expect that figure to have risen to 2.5 million. Our colleagues at the Department of Health tell us that no less than 70 per cent of emergency hospital admissions are now of retired people who have had a fall. The average cost of an occupied hospital bed is £3,000 a week, so we can begin to appreciate the cost to the working taxpayer of the physically doddery.

"The chief problem, however, is not one of physical decay. We are much more concerned by the recent research by the private-health provider Bupa, showing that by 2015 the number of British men and women with dementia will exceed the total number of hospital beds within the entire NHS hospital network.

"One would hope that the great majority of such dementia sufferers remain in their homes looked after by their families. However, we do not have the structure of family life that persists in some of the Mediterranean countries – you might know this, Chancellor, from your many holidays in Italy – and so the burden falls overwhelmingly upon care homes funded at local-authority level. You will have seen the recent report by Dr Ros Altmann, director-general of the Saga Group; she points out that 'there are huge gaps in our social-care budget and even the latest extra £2bn that the Government has announced will be given to local authorities to fund care has not been ring-fenced. So the money is not getting through and local authorities are cutting care spending on the elderly by 8 per cent'.

"We understand that under the Coalition's decentralising principle of removing the Treasury from any and all involvement in local expenditures (a brave decision, if we may say so, Chancellor) they are completely free to spend the money we allocated to elderly care on – just by way of example – new twinning arrangements with various towns on the Florida coast and the Caribbean; this is perhaps regrettable, especially bearing in mind that this 8 per cent decline in available funds on social care for the elderly implies a much sharper drop in the amount spent on each old person, given the expected increase in their number.

"Of course, if the number of old people with dementia (or other conditions requiring full-time care) were not to grow, or even to fall, then the problem would not be of the order which has caused you to commission this briefing. That simple observation, combined with your exhortation to 'think outside the box' leads us to ask, Chancellor, if you have ever read The Fixed Period, by Anthony Trollope. We know that you are a keen student of Trollope's Palliser novels, full of insight as they are into 18th-century Parliamentary politics; but perhaps you have not read this lesser-known work. The Fixed Period, published in 1882, imagines the world a hundred years into the future, in particular the events in Britannula, an invented British colony.

"The president of Britannula, an arch-rationalist called John Neverbend, believes that compulsory euthanasia at the age of 67 – this is the fixed term – will solve all his nation's future problems of poverty, which he believes will stem from overcrowding with old people without any productive use. This policy does not go down well with the older members of the population, even though Neverbend tells them the result of their sacrifice will be that Britannulans will become 'the richest people on God's earth'. The older Britannulans alert the British Government, which intervenes via gunboat and removes Neverbend from power. In captivity he consoles himself that a hundred years hence his policy will be seen as both enlightened and essential.

"We do not suggest, Chancellor, that you emulate President Neverbend. Euthanasia of the unproductive and inherently uneconomic as an overt policy of the state has never recovered from its association with the most unfortunate German government of the late 1930s – although its Reich Chancellor's personal 'euthanasia decree' of 1 September 1939 used the phrase 'mercy death' (Gnadentod) which some still find a very appealing term.

"We would have to act in a much subtler manner, gently encouraging the social acceptability of euthanasia – and we are happy to say that the BBC has done some wonderful work on this. If it is legalised, we can expect large numbers of families to be prepared to suggest such a painless end – in a sensitive manner – to their elderly and suffering relatives. This would not, of course, be because they wanted to get their hands on granny's house before it was sold to pay for care bills, but purely out of concern for her well-being. Dignitas in Switzerland charges around £5,000 for its service, but the basic cost of the poison is no more than around £50; so if it were legalised here, you can see, Chancellor, what that would imply for future healthcare costs.

"Again, this would have to be with the explicit consent of the subject – although we have drawn up some interesting proposals for incentivisation: perhaps, given the potentially vast savings for the Treasury, we could propose that those taking this step would be exempt from all taxes on their estates: or in the case of poorer families, an outright cash offer could be made.

"We know that such measures will, at the least, require the full support of the Health Secretary; we have taken the precaution of asking our colleagues to place in his red box an American text, The economic argument for euthanasia, which points out that 'Legal euthanasia is the ultimate cost-control measure for the health care industry.'

"Good luck with the Cabinet meeting, Chancellor – and please try not to wear black, as we would not want jokes to deflect us from the essential seriousness of these proposals."



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Assessor

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Sustainability Assessor...

Music Teacher

£110 - £150 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: We are l...

A Level Chemistry Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Part-time A Level Chemist...

Teaching Assistant

£12000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Secondary Teaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: second languages, the secret of love and is it all right to call someone stupid?

John Rentoul
High and mighty: Edinburgh Castle and city skyline  

i Editor's Letter: We're coming to Edinburgh

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?