Ethics of Old Age

Why is old age an ethical problem?
Western society has described the phenomenon of population ageing as a ‘problem’ and a ‘burden’ since the beginning of the twentieth century. There is evidence that industrialised, Western countries are inherently ageist. Studies have shown that older people are perceived as stereotypically rigid in thought and old fashioned in morality and values. Older people have been found to frequently hold negative ideas about themselves, the older people included in one study reflected the narratives frequently seen in the popular media describing the ageing population in terms of burden on available resources. A significant number of the participants of the study reported fear of becoming a burden on their families and wider society. This less than benign social context for older people is important to recognise and incorporate into any consideration of the ethical issues of old age. (1)(2)(3)(4)
The ethical issues that are related to the concept of old age, and how society may change and adapt to an increasingly aged population are complex and varied,

consequently they can’t be covered comprehensively in the scope of this paper.
There are four widely accepted general ethical principles, autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice. This framework   developed by Beauchamp and Childress will be used in the remainder of this paper to attempt to illustrate and critically reflect on some of the ethical considerations relevant to older age both on an individual and population level. (5)
The principle of autonomy, or self-determination, requires respecting the choices and wishes of people who possess decisional capacity, along with protecting those who lack this capacity.(6)
The issue of autonomy can be more poignant among older people, firstly because we live in an inherently ageist society where older people can lose dignity, along with personal self-determination and respect.
Later life is frequently where the...