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BMJ. 1995 May 6;310(6988):1179-82.

Protecting elderly people: flaws in ageist arguments.

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  • 1Department of Philosophy, University of Leeds.


Some form of rationing is necessary in medicine, and to use age as a criterion for rationing seems initially appealing. Many of the criteria currently being used for deciding the distribution of funds depend on subjective judgments. Age, however, is objective and therefore negates the need for value judgments. Justice and fairness, it is sometimes suggested, require that finite resources should be directed at young people, who have not had a chance to live their lives, rather than at elderly people, who have already lived most of theirs. The adoption of ageist policies, however, may not result in the implied savings unless care is also withdrawn. Furthermore, ageist policies, which deny elderly people treatment on the sole grounds of their age, are both unfair and discriminatory and should therefore be resisted.

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