In a startling interview, Baroness Helen Mary Warnock, one of Britain's top bioethicists, says elderly people with dementia may have `a duty to die.'
"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."
"The people Alzheimer's Society works with are valued, treated with respect, accorded dignity as unique individuals with past, present and future needs and desires. They may wish to discuss end of life issues with loved ones but the language Lady Warnock uses about `wasting the resources of the National Health Service' does not help those discussions."
The Baroness's comments have, of course, been fodder for online commentators. Some making much of her peerage, even suggesting that they "start with the Baroness," while others have been more reasonable in their response:
"Sufferers and relatives should be helped through the provision of better treatments and improvements in care. To say that the demented should instead end their lives shows a quite chilling absence of elementary human sympathy."
Like it or not, however, deciding who gets access to the health care system is one of the looming issues in medical world.