When the psychiatrist and social activist, Rob Butler, coined the term ‘ageism’ in 1969, he predicted that it would become an issue in an economy when resources were under pressure – exactly the circumstances we are seeing now.  But the good news is that it is being challenged by leading voices.

An example came on BBC’s ‘Any Questions’, when a caller asked if “the trade-off” for trying to save the lives of the elderly was “really worth it, when it will cripple the younger generation’s lives for decades”. Panellists responded by saying there was no ‘trade-off’ to consider. “Our absolute responsibility is the protection of life”, said Nadhim Zahawi MP. Other panellists agreed. Silkie Carlo, the Director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said “the right to life is the most important human right.And it’s really times like these that make you value what a gift life is”, adding “I hope that if there is one thing that we can take forward, it is compassion for everyone in society, young and old.’

The really alarming thing about ageism is that it is so ingrained it becomes reflexive – people with ageist views simply do not see it in themselves.  Former UK Government Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir David King, speaking to the Telegraph said that people aged 90 or over who get ill, shouldn’t go to hospital.  He said that not only were many people of that age unlikely to survive, “there is a risk that you are overburdening the NHS. We really don’t want 90-year-olds clogging up hospitals at this critical time”.  Read more here:  (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/26/over-90s-should-not-clog-nhs-hospitals-coronavirus-outbreak/)  The really sad thing is that people aged 90-plus are the ones who would voluntarily self-sacrifice, anyway.  They are the generation that survived the great depression and sacrificed much in the last war and in building up the country afterwards.   They’re known as ‘the Great Generation’ – the stiff upper lip people, known for their work ethic, financial prudence and humility. If it were put to them, many would pass up the chance of treatment for a younger person.

NICE guidelines clearly show that intensive care triage is not predicated on age, but on general health.  Read more here:  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/revealed-official-guidance-doctors-decide-coronavirus-patients/.

More and more older people are surviving Covid-10, to the delight of their medical teams. You can read about some of them here: https://louisemorse.com/coronavirus-there-is-hope-people/.



Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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