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Longing for a longer life!

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Concerns revolving around aged populations are beyond the economic burden. Photo by Matteo Vistocco- Unsplash

By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

In 1998 WHO predicted that the number of people aged 65+ years would be 800 million by 2025. The prediction is coming true. In 2022, there were 771 million people aged 65+ years globally, accounting for almost 10% of the world’s population, and is expected to hit 16% in 2050. The share of the Malaysian population aged 65+ years crossed 7% in 2022.

The quest to defy death and aging has captivated humanity for centuries. We yearn for a longer yet youthful life. Tons of anti-aging research, success in cloning, and the ability to attach human senses, memories, and emotions to robots have made that longing much closer than ever before.

At the same time, AI-driven robots are expected sooner or later to replace the human workforce in many industries. When AI-driven robots are capable of sweeping our homes, driving cars, giving lectures, writing research proposals, operating production lines, or performing critical surgery – what else will be left for us to do?

Yet we want to live longer! What exactly is our target?

Albeit, nations that are helmsmen of technological advancement to bring humanity to the pinnacle of civilization are struggling with an aging society.

An article by Ronald Lee and Andrew Mason published in 2017 (available on the IMF website) clearly stated “As populations in richer nations get older, GDP growth slows, support costs rise, and government budgets feel pressure.” A recent research in Malaysia estimated that a 1% increase in old age dependency will decline GDP growth by an average of 6.6%.

Concerns revolving around aged populations are beyond the economic burden.

A 2017 review of 52 studies in 28 countries from diverse regions estimated that over the past year, 1 in 6 people (15.7%) aged 60 years and older were subjected to some form of abuse.

In 2021 at least one elderly person was killed every eight days in Japan by those who otherwise have the moral obligation to provide love and care for their aged parents, grandparents, or relatives.

Sadly, in the brute reality of the stressful lifestyle of the modern days, the elderly become a burden – hence the so-called “caregiver fatigue” coerced the younger relatives to abuse or murder the elderly.

According to WHO, more than 80% of the global COVID–19–related deaths between 2020 and 2021 occurred among people aged 60 years or older. Whether elderly COVID-19 patients were refused ICU care was much debated too.

Here lies the paradox of the motto of civilization – a long healthy and prosperous life! Those who are living longer become feeble and dependent more on healthcare facilities. They are also considered stumbling blocks to economic prosperity. More so is the predicament of an insane society where elderly people are being abused or murdered by those who otherwise must take care of them.

What would be the meaning then of the pinnacle of technological advancement and economic prosperity in an insane society where the aged population will gradually increase? A question that needs an answer more urgently than our quest to halt aging or our venture to settle in Mars.

Finding that answer would be more helpful to find a more pragmatic approach to a sustainable human civilization.

Japanese people who are unique in their polite and kind behavior are failing to take care of their loved elderly ones. It is not because they have become rude or cruel – but it is because they are broken with the pressure of taking care of the elderly.

Taro Aso, the then-finance minister in Japan in 2013 uncouthly said that the elderly should be allowed to “hurry up and die.”

Will the rest of the world’s populations be different in facing a similar burden?

Cultural and ritual killing of the old aged, i.e., senicide better known as “geronticide” is not an alien concept in human society. The active or passive killing of the elderly by senio-euthanasia or altruistic self-sacrifice has been in practice to relieve the clan, family, or society from the burden of a “useless eater”.

In the distant past in Japan, an infirm or elderly relative was carried to a mountain, or some other remote, desolate place, and left there to die – a practice known as “ubasute” (abandoning an old woman).

Why does such an insane practice have to come back? Are we not missing something amidst our quest for technological advancement and economic prosperity, and longing for a longer life?

……

The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at tarique@um.edu.my

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