By Debbie le Quesne

Elderly drugs ban: A moral debate

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There are those who may be brave enough to say drugs have always been denied the elderly if it’s deemed these ageing souls are of no benefit to society.

But mow there’s an official NHS line. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) is due to change how it decides which drugs can be provided.

The consideration criteria: The wider “societal benefits” and, of course, cost.

This story is everywhere this morning and the heavyweights have done a pretty good job with it.

Whether we like it or not cost generated with treatment needs to be balanced against results . . . and those results, according to a quote from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, would not discriminate against the elderly.

However, reported in The Express, Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients’ Association, called the plans “disturbing and discriminatory”, adding: “Human life cannot be assessed in terms of cost and benefit.”

I think I’m with her on this one. You could argue this is a kind of drug rationing, but quite whether it’s morally correct is up for a big debate.

It seems to me that the older and most vulnerable of society are currently getting a bad deal. Their social care has ben slashed, the threshold of getting benefits increased and now it appears their economic worth is under scrutiny.

You take this line of thought to its ultimate conclusion and the results are very scary.

Quoted in The Express, Paul Green of Saga, says: “When you look at things from a pounds, shillings and pence perspective, you get some very curious results. Society should be driven by things that are morally right not just those which are financially correct.

“I think everyone accepts that there are limited budgets but to say that the distribution of drugs should solely be based on what your future economic contribution is going to be has lots of very uncomfortable undertones to it.”

He added: “The implications are that treatment is going to be denied to people based on their age.

“Quite naturally, somebody in their 60s, say, will potentially make a shorter economic contribution than somebody in their 20s.”

Where do we draw the margins on this? Are those who are prematurely denied work because of sickness or injury less valuable? Would they be in the same category as the elderly?

I understand care budgets and the fact that this is a deeply complex issue, but this carried moral overtones – or is that just with me?

I know plenty of elderly people – some in care settings – but they do contribute to society. They enrich lives, they receive and give love, they have compassion and passion, they laugh and they cry, just like the rest of us. Their social contribution is clearly not economic, but for me hugely valued.

I wonder what will be the moral epitaph written over the coalition? I have long lost confidence in any government to be a moral guardian and in the light of today’s news my stand is well justified.

You see, I just don’t get it. Life expectancy is longer, we are working longer and maybe drugs are being rationed. One comment to close heard in a conversation about the NICE development. “Government minister are high earners with gold-plated pensions. They view the elderly as a burden on resources, knowing that if they reach old age their security is copper bottomed. Us mere mortals, however, do not enjoy the same privileges.


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