UN health goals ageist and undermine ‘health as a right for all’, say experts

United Nations plan to reduce premature mortality would render the over-70s ‘second-class citizens’, academics tell the Lancet

Close up of son holding his mothers hands
Professor Peter Lloyd-Sherlock said the target would ‘reinforce the ageist bias that pervades many aspects of health care decision-making’. Photograph: Portra Images/Getty Images

A plan to reduce deaths from a range of diseases is “highly unethical” because it discriminates against people aged 70 and over, according to leading medical experts.

In a letter published in the Lancet on Friday, academics warned that United Nations proposals to reduce premature mortality from diseases such as cancer, stroke and dementia had the potential to undermine “cherished, fundamental principles of universality and health as a right for all” because they include only the deaths of people aged 69 or under.

The plan would also render as “second-class citizens” people aged 70 and over, the letter’s signatories said.

Academics said the implication for all countries, the UK included, was that resources allocated to conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease should be diverted from older people in order to comply with this global target.

Professor Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, professor of social policy and international development at the University of East Anglia and lead author of the letter, wrote it in response to research about the UN sustainable development goals (SDG).

Prof Lloyd-Sherlock said: “This premature mortality target is highly unethical, since it unjustifiably discriminates against older people and is explicitly ageist. Also, it lacks any scientific validity.”

The letter said the SDG target “has the potential to undermine cherished, fundamental principles of universality and health as a right for all. Put simply, it tells policy makers, particularly in poorer countries that older people do not matter.”

“This target will inevitably reinforce the ageist bias that pervades many aspects of health care decision-making.”

Baroness Sally Greengross, a former director of Age Concern England and a signatory of the letter, said: “If adopted, this UN target could lead to institutionalised discrimination against older people in health care, both here in the UK and globally.”

The letter called on the UN to urgently reconsider the framing of this health target in order to avoid setting “policy priorities that blatantly exclude those people who are often in the greatest need and face the most hardship”.

Lloyd-Sherlock said: “The SDGs are not quite set in stone yet, so we have a final opportunity to impress upon the UN the need to alter this explicitly ageist health target. If this doesn’t happen, people aged 70 and over will become second-class citizens as far as health policy is concerned.”

by: The Guardian 29.05.2015 Press Association

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