In the UK, some of the worst affected people during the coronavirus pandemic were elderly people in care homes, isolated from loved ones. Even before the pandemic hit, we were facing an epidemic of loneliness in care homes, and in wider society.

Lonely older people suffering from a terminal illness would be some of the most at-risk people if an ‘assisted dying’ law was to come into force. Cut off from love, support, and community, they may feel that an ‘assisted death’ is a good option, because life is not worth living.

Vulnerable older citizens are also some of the most common victims of abuse, including financial coercion by loved ones. If assisted suicide is legalised, there is a danger that more abuse would be perpetrated against older people. For example, those who wish to see an older relative die sooner, to release funds from an inheritance, could coerce a relative into opting for an assisted death.

At Better Way, we feel that these are unacceptable risks. We have a growing elderly population. We should be driving up investment in measures that protect elderly people and improve their quality of life, not putting them at greater risk of further suffering and abuse.

A Better Way

Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) is a specialist organisation that operates across the four nations of the United Kingdom, with a focus on the issue of elder abuse. Its vision and aims are as follows:

“Our vision is a society which values older people and one in which they and other adults can live free from abuse perpetrated by those in whom they have an expectation of trust. Where such abuse occurs we seek an environment in which it can be identified and addressed.

We want to facilitate actions and create circumstances that prevent abuse. It is better to prevent abusive situations than to intervene afterward to protect; We want to encourage timely and effective intervention to protect when abuse occurs.

The circumstances of abuse often mean that the impact is profound and opportunities for intervention are limited; We want to increase awareness of abuse at an individual and societal level.

By doing so we increase the ability of people to recognise, identify and take action against elder abuse; We want to increase the awareness of abuse of all those working with or having a responsibility for adults at risk of abuse.

By doing so we increase the ability of practitioners and others to respond appropriately to circumstances of abuse; We want to encourage genuine empowerment, free from coercion, which allows people to make informed choices about their lives.”

As a campaign, we endorse this vision and call on legislators to pursue the steps therein, instead of assisted suicide.

The charity Age UK provides analysis of inequalities faced by older people. Its ‘manifesto’ for the 2019 General Election set out several broad objectives for the next government. We also endorse these aims and call on legislators to pursue these instead of assisted suicide.

  1. Provide the NHS with the support it needs to turn the vision set out in its Long Term Plan into reality, including clear commitments to rebuild community services like district nursing and palliative care.
  2. Invest in general practice and deliver much more tailored support, closer to home, for older people living with serious long-term health conditions or frailty.
  3. Ensure older people have timely access to essential treatment and services. Too many older people are experiencing long waits for, or being denied access to, specialist consultations, routine operations like cataracts and hip replacements, and mental health services. This rationing undermines their health and capacity to live independently and is arguably ageist.
  4. Restore funding to public health services to ensure that older people can access help to keep them well and out of hospital. For example, falls are the leading cause of hospital admission for older people, but their incidence can be reduced by strength and balance classes delivered in the community.

Read the full Age UK manifesto here.