Thomas Sowell is one of the nation’s most thoughtful writers. This reflection on the “Duty to Die” speaks to the “values clarification" that has flourished in many of our colleges and universities in the last several decades and questions the value of this contribution of academia …
The despicable ‘duty to die’
By THOMAS SOWELL
May 15, 2010
One fashionable notion among some of the intelligentsia is that old people have "a duty to die," rather than become a burden to others.
This is more than just an idea discussed around a seminar table. Already Britain’s government-run medical system is restricting what medications or treatments it will authorize for the elderly. It seems almost certain that similar attempts to contain runaway costs will lead to similar policies when US medical care is taken over by the government.
Make no mistake: Letting old people die is a lot cheaper than spending the kind of money required to keep them alive and well. If a government-run medical system is going to save any serious amount of money, it is almost certain to do so by sacrificing the elderly.
There was a time when some desperately poor societies had to abandon old people to their fate, because there was just not enough margin for everyone to survive. Sometimes the elderly would simply go off to face their fate alone.
But is that where we are today?
Talk about "a duty to die" made me think back to my early childhood in the South, during the Great Depression. One day, I was told that an older lady — a relative — was going to come and stay with us for a while, and I was told how to be polite and considerate toward her.
"Aunt" Nance Ann had no home of her own. But she moved around from relative to relative, not spending enough time in any one home to be a real burden.
At that time, we didn’t have things like electricity or central heating or hot running water. But we had a roof over our heads and food on the table — and Aunt Nance Ann was welcome to both.
Poor as we were, I never heard anybody say, or even intimate, that Aunt Nance Ann had "a duty to die." I only began to hear that kind of talk decades later, from educated people in an age when even most families living below poverty level owned a car and had air-conditioning.
It is today, in an age when homes have flat-paneled TVs, and most families eat in restaurants regularly or have pizzas and other meals delivered to their homes, that the elites — rather than the masses — have begun talking about "a duty to die."
Back in the days of Aunt Nance Ann, nobody in our family had ever gone to college. Indeed, none had gone beyond elementary school. Apparently you need a lot of expensive education, sometimes including courses on ethics, before you can start talking about "a duty to die."
Many years later, while going through a divorce, I told a friend that I was considering contesting child custody. She urged me not to do it. Why? Because raising a child would interfere with my career.
But my son didn’t have a career. He was just a child who needed someone. I ended up with custody of my son and, although he was not a demanding child, raising him could not help impeding my career a little. But do you just abandon a child when it is inconvenient to raise him?
The lady who gave me this advice had a degree from the Harvard Law School. She had more years of education than my whole family had, back in the days of Aunt Nance Ann.
Much of what is taught in our schools and colleges today seeks to break down traditional values, and replace them with more fancy and fashionable notions, of which "a duty to die" is just one.
These efforts used to be called "values clarification," though the name has changed over the years, as more and more parents caught on to what was going on and objected. The values that supposedly needed "clarification" had been clear enough to last for generations and nobody asked the schools and colleges for this "clarification."
Nor are we better people because of it.