This time last week my Dad’s partner who is 90 years-old was diagnosed with “terminal cancer”. She was alone when they broke the news and was too frightened to ask which type of cancer, what care she’s going to get or how long she can expect to live.
She’s back home now, awaiting a call from Macmillan nurses, trying to live her life as best she can. It’s fair to assume that with the “terminal” diagnosis there’ll be no treatment, maybe just palliative care when the time comes.
You’d think the decision not to offer treatment options might be a symptom of an NHS under the strain of coronavirus. It isn’t I’m afraid, I’ve seen it happen before, with another older people diagnosed with cancer who not only received no treatment but whose death was hurried along with morphine.
Throughout this month literally thousands of older people will be treated this way as doctors decide which patients get priority treatment during the Covid-19 outbreak.
An open letter from the chief executives of nine charities for older people has warned that denying the elderly access to intensive care units is “discriminatory, age-ist and morally wrong” and should not be made solely on age or care home residence.
The letter from the chief executives of Age UK, Independent Age and seven other bodies follows reports that doctors have told how older coronavirus patients stand limited chances of access to ventilators which will be in short supply.
It states: “Any suggestion that treatment decisions can be blanket ones, based on age alone or with a person’s age given undue weight as against other factors such as their usual state of health and capacity to benefit from treatment would be completely unacceptable.
“For many years we have known that chronological age is a very poor proxy for an individual’s health status and resilience – something we all see among the older people in our lives.”
Although 90 my Dad’s partner is a fit, slim lady in full possession of all her mental faculties. She’s a mother and grandmother and has been making the most of every moment of life these last few years. Who’s to say her life is worth less than anyone else’s? I feel sure though that if someone younger had received the same diagnosis as she got last week at least some treatment options would be offered.
Ruth Isden, Age UK head of head of health influencing, said: “To discriminate against people on any basis which is unjustified is morally wrong. This is about upholding people’s fundamental human rights. We shouldn’t be making decisions based on age alone”
Is this the last vestige of true discrimination left in modern society. No discrimination can be more blatant than using it as a basis to decide who lives and dies. It is an absolute outrage.