Bishop Anthony Fisher

Bishop Anthony Fisher

October 29, 2012

Western nations must resist the pressure to "scapegoat, abandon, even kill, the elderly as a cost-cutting measure," an Australian bishop said in a major bioethics lecture.

Bishop Anthony Fisher of Parramatta, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said health economists and utilitarian philosophers are placing the elderly at risk by treating them as a "swarm of voracious but unworthy consumers of a resource which doctors must guard from them."

Delivering the 2012 Anscombe Memorial Lecture at St John's College, Oxford University, he accused health economists who focused disproportionately on costs of "showing us how to get most efficiently to the wrong place."

"In the process we may be led to compromise basic moral principles against killing, harming and abandoning, and favouring respect for the dignity and equality of all, promotion of health, reverence for the elderly and support for the disadvantaged," Fisher said.


"The elderly are not a problem, a market, a budget: They are real individuals, our own people, our ancestors, in due course – ourselves."

His remarks came as concerns mounted about the care of the elderly in Britain's state-funded National Health Service. Intense media interest was triggered by a formal complaint of attempted murder made by Peter Tulloch to police. During an unscheduled visit to Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, Scotland, Tulloch found his mother, Jean, 83, isolated and deprived of food and fluid. He demanded her fluids be restored, but she died two weeks later.

The London-based Daily Mail reported the British government has asked community doctors to keep registers of patients they think will die within a year. The purpose, it reported, is to single out such people for care that would allow them to die in comfort rather than prolong their lives with treatment.

Fisher said the Department of Health reports 45 per cent of government hospital and community health expenditures go to those over 65, though they are only 16 per cent of the population.

"Of course we need principles of fairness here and virtues like medical temperance. But to wish we were dead before we are old or that the old were dead so they'd stop burdening us is no anthem for a good society," he added.