A report today in The Australian has it that the new Japanese Finance Minister,
Taro Aso said, 'the elderly should be allowed to "hurry up and die" instead of costing the government money for end-of-life medical care.'
The article went on:
Aso, who also doubles as deputy prime minister, reportedly said during a meeting of the National Council on Social Security Reforms: "Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. You cannot sleep well when you think it's all paid by the government.
"This won't be solved unless you let them hurry up and die," he said.
"I don't need that kind of care. I will die quickly," he said adding he had left written instructions that his life is not artificially prolonged.
During the meeting, he reportedly referred to "tube people" when talking of patients who cannot feed themselves.
He later attempted to blunt criticism by claiming that he was making a personal comment.
Let them hurry up and die - sounds really tolerant doesn't it? Giving permission, so to speak.
Is anyone else reminded of the Malthusian slogan about 'useless eaters' and the Nazi 'life-not-worthy-of-life' comments? What about The Kissinger Report from the mid-seventies on the 'security implications'of world population growth? - Paul Ehrlich has a lot to answer for.
So does Aso. Apparently he has a bit of a problem with opening-mouth-before-engaging-brain syndrome, yet, strangely, he's probably really saying what a lot of Japanese (and others) are really thinking: that something has to be done about the aging population problem in Japan (and elsewhere).
It strikes me as strange that the country known throughout the last half of the twentieth century as the nation of innovation in technology can somehow throw their collective hands in the air and cry: too hard!
Instead Aso places a guilt trip on the Japanese elderly; as though they had a duty to die. This offence is obvious to westerners but might have a more sinister cultural bind for elderly Japanese for whom the idea of an honorable or duty-bound suicide has historical antecedents, such as seppuku - for the Samurai, kamakaze - for the air force pilot and the banzai charge of the foot soldier.
These kinds of comments can only serve to undermine the confidence of the elderly and increase their sense of being a burden. Whereas by tradition over centuries, Japanese society was structured around caring for their elders, it is now noted that millions of aged Japanese live (and will die) alone.
Aso would do better to focus on the causes of the current problem rather than turning so easily to the doctrines of Malthus and Ehrlich. Trouble is; without good leadership and critical thinking a nation can easily be lead down the path of least resistance - and often the elderly don't resist all that much!