Putting a lower value on older lives is unethical

Our pandemic response should not start from a place that sees different value in different people, say Catholic health experts (CNS/Benoit Tessier, Reuters)

Commentary on the pandemic that suggests some lives are worth more than others is troubling, write St Vincent’s Health Australia’s Toby Hall and Dr Daniel Fleming. Source: Sydney Morning Herald.

At the weekend The Age published an article by the University of Melbourne’s vice-chancellor, Professor Duncan Maskell, asking Victorians to wrestle with uncomfortable questions about our future. He called on us to be ready to make tough calls, and to accept the unavoidable reality of mortality.

No problems there. Any community with a grain of wisdom goes through that process. But at the centre of his approach, Maskell suggests a way of thinking that we should all find troubling.

He asks: “What is the value of a 90-year-old’s life versus the value of the continuing livelihood and happiness of a 25-year-old?”

His view appears to be that in a future pandemic, authorities should apply a “quality-adjusted life year” model to help them chart a way forward.

This approach would say the 25-year-old's life is of much higher value than that of the 90-year-old. This is because a life nearer its end is allocated less QALYs than a healthy life closer to its beginning.

Such a model would provide a justification for accepting risk – even mortality – for the 90-year-old and prioritising the 25-year-old because the latter's life is valued more.

We’re tired of seeing commentary that suggests our pandemic response should start from a place that sees different value in different people, as if that’s an appropriate way to plan our way out of this mess.

And we’re tired of the suggestion that it’s OK to place a dollar value on a human life. It’s not rational, it’s not scientific, and it’s not ethical.

But most of all, we’re sick of the underlying value judgment that sits behind this: that some lives are worth more than others.

Toby Hall is chief executive of St Vincent’s Health Australia. Dr Daniel Fleming is head of ethics at St Vincent’s Health Australia.


Putting a lower value on older lives is unethical (The Age)


PM warned 'reactive' approach leaving aged care vulnerable (SMH)

Coronavirus: Aged-care regulator misses 83pc of homes (The Australian)

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