Our Treatment of the Elderly in the Pandemic Is Morally Bankrupt

In societies where elders are honored around the world, the death toll is much lower

Photo: eggeeggjiew/Getty Images

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) called us out for “moral bankruptcy” in our Covid-19 response. He’s exactly right.

People are no longer dying from the virus because we don’t know how to prevent its spread. They’re dying because we don’t care to. Countries all over the world—from Africa to Asia to Europe—are showing us that contagion is a choice we are making, not cards we have been dealt.

The former conservative prime minister from Australia thinks we are spending too much money to save the lives of old people. He says we are too fearful to say out loud that we should “let nature take its course.”

He estimates that what Australia spent equates to $200,000/year for every life saved if 10 years were added to your life. He calls that “substantially beyond what governments are usually prepared to pay for life-saving drugs.”

So let’s go there. The reason you spent $300 billion, and the U.S. well in excess, is because we didn’t invest fractions of that amount in the first place. Because we didn’t value people’s health. You want to make your citizen’s pay because the government failed to do its job.

South Africa has fewer than 2,000 new cases every day with much fewer resources. In fact, the continent of Africa has fewer than one case/1000 and 28,000 deaths in total. 1.2 billion people. 28,000 deaths.

As we cross 200,000 deaths this week, I doubt history will fault us for “caring too much” or “spending too much” here in the United States.

Let’s look at the “let nature take its course” alternative. What’s the cost to people paying taxes their whole lives, working hard in a country, and then to get dismissed because they are “elderly?”

Let’s ask Scott Atlas, President Donald Trump’s “science-y” advisor. He dismissively says risk of death is predominantly in people who are “elderly with chronic conditions.”

First, try to overlook the boorish and boisterous sarcasm if you can.

  1. It’s a lie. It’s not age with pre-existing conditions. It’s age or people with pre-existing conditions.
  2. He is using the phrase elderly to describe people over 65 (88% of deaths are people over 65).

My dad was 64 when he died. He almost made it to Scott’s category—when people can be discarded. Today would have been his 81st birthday. I actually sang him “When I’m Sixty Four” in my shitty voice on that birthday. And those 17 years would have meant a lot.

It’s sadly not just old people. The number of people under 65 who have died is 24,000, about the same as all the people who died on the continent of Africa. If someone told you last year that a bug would come and kill 24,000 middle-aged and young people in six months would you say “that’s great”? Four thousand Americans dying every month would be unprecedented by itself. Young people with pre-existing conditions are almost as at risk as older people.

Young people are hosts for Covid-19 and contagious often without their knowledge. We haven’t found a way to separate young and old people. And why should we make that the permanent answer?

Sadly, this is a virus of the blood vessels that lodges in organs and damages the body. It is creating a new form of mysterious chronic illness. If you haven’t listened to the long-haulers episode, you’re going to want to.

By my calculation, people who are classified as elderly and at the highest risk were: born before or during the Depression, fought in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam, many lived through discrimination/immigrated here/made sacrificed in one, and much is our economy was built on their backs. They didn’t do all this so a radical radiologist could decide what their life is worse.

Seems like anyone who ever met Scott or who understands infectious diseases wants to disassociate with him. If I’m a senior, I’m not voting for the death panels guy.

When the head of the World Health Organization talks about our morality—saying “when the elderly are dying it’s not fine. It’s moral bankruptcy,” I say yes, finally, amen.

More than anything I’m glad people are finally saying this out loud. It’s not veiled talk. It’s not from Twitter trolls. It’s from our federal government.

Something tells me people who are older or plan to get older have something to vote for this year, and I expect they will in record numbers.

In societies where elders are honored around the world, the death toll is much lower. Here in the U.S., leaders sound very different notes. There is cruelty in the world. Our society should just prevent those people from making decisions for the rest of us. Again.

This is pulled and lightly edited from my Sept. 12 Twitter thread.

Former Medicare, Medicaid & ACA head for Pres. Barack Obama. https://twitter.com/ASlavitt

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