By James E. Thornton, Earl R. Winkler
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Additional resources for Ethics and Ageing: The Right to Live, the Right to Die
Avorn has sketched one possible terminus of this way of thinking. The logic of the human-capital argument would thus be perfectly consistent with the concept that euthanasia (or at least nontreatment) after retirement is the geriatric intervention with the most favorable benefit-cost ratio. " Absent from this view are the notions of compassion, rights, one's debt to one's parents and forebears, or any sense of altruism or equity. 13 A patient's clinical condition, not his or her individual age or age category, should be the governing criterion for decisions about which technologies, procedures, and services are appropriate.
These perspectives and goals are as much an ethical demand as is the sensitive perception of a unique individual in an old body. It is very difficult to determine accurately what we should expect about aging on the large scale, and about the moral demands the care of the aging will make upon us and our communities in the long run. There are both controversies and some fairly certain trends. One earlier model of the future curve of aging, that proposed by James F. Fries, emphasizes a very optimistic emergence of a pattern of natural death at the end of a natural life span.
Though most thoughtful persons would agree with the emerging ethical trend against mindless extension of life when the cerebral basis for consciousness and communication has been irreversibly destroyed, the tendency to equate elderliness with senility must be unmasked and checkmated. Proposals to identify 36 Ethics and Aging life-extending technologies as most appropriate for the early or middle stages of life can easily collapse into discrimination against the elderly. These proposals are ethically not very promising or wise.