Baroness Warnock: Dementia sufferers may have a 'duty to die'

The 84-year-old added that she hoped people will soon be “licensed to put others down” if they are unable to look after themselves. …

Lady Warnock said: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.

“I’m absolutely, fully in agreement with the argument that if pain is insufferable, then someone should be given help to die, but I feel there’s a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately wants to die because they’re a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they too should be allowed to die.

In a 2004 interview with a Times reporter, who called Baroness Warnock “our pre-eminent medical ethicist”, she advanced similar ideas. Apparently at the time it was a shift in her thinking.

So we should be more like elephants? “Exactly, they creep off and get out of the way.” And we should show similar bravery? “Absolutely. It used to be much easier to crawl into one’s corner and die than it is now because people are always dragging you off to be rescued.” Cue: loud laughter.

She goes even further, suggesting the frail as well as the terminally ill should shuffle off early: “If I went into a nursing home it would be a terrible waste of money that my family could use far better, or even that society could use better with inheritance tax.”

This is extreme stuff. Warnock is so full of vitality, in the midst of organising a party for local artists, that she would need to be really far gone before I could see her taking her own advice. And thank God. Surely the elderly should spend what is, after all, their money on staying alive if they want to; and shouldn’t we care for them as they cared for us for as long as they are around? Not so. Warnock points out that the sick at the beginning and end of life’s cycle often rely on a limited public purse, and if we keep a baby alive on a life-support machine we deny someone else treatment:

She seems to be advocating rationing medical resources based upon utility, spending on basic health care and avoiding extraordinary measures. But, granted, these may have just been informal musings given in an interview, while the Gilliam’s article reflect her clearly thought out position.

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