Skip to content

Britain’s life expectancy has stalled. Should we be blaming or celebrating?

September 11, 2017

Sir Michael Marmot, a distinguished expert on ageing, claims that the UK trails the rest of Europe in our rate of increase of life expectancy. Between 2011 and 2015, he claims, the populations of countries such as Denmark, Estonia, France, Spain and the Netherlands are living longer, and ours isn’t.

I would put this another way, and say that this is one of the few areas in which we lead the continent. Except that, once again, the Germans won on penalties. Their increase was marginally slower than ours.

Some parts of the media have jumped on these statistics as evidence that our National Health Service is failing the population. They may be right, though I wonder whether we have arrived at a point where an increasing number of people question the benefit of living for many years in decrepitude and dementia.

I certainly have no intention of staggering on beyond the average life expectancy of the British male (79), if that means mouldering away in a care home, incapable of remembering anything beyond what I had for breakfast.

When my mother died at 94, she had been in a care home for four years. By the time of her death, she was reduced to trawling her long-term memory for nursery rhymes. She didn’t know who was in the photos in her room, and she didn’t know me. Her world was reduced to one small room. Years before, she declared herself ready to go, and signed a living will, which stated that if she contracted a life-threatening illness, she was not to be resuscitated. And so, eventually, it went.

So could we be entering an era when we stop advocating life preservation at all costs, and with the consent of the patient, allow nature to take its course? I don’t know, and I don’t share Sir Michael’s expertise. I only know my own preferences, which don’t extend to taking a trip to Switzerland, but do involve dying in my own bed if possible.

I have a friend who sincerely believes that there is a covert government policy of letting the old die off as early as possible. That way, the national treasury benefits from reduced pension, benefits and health care costs. I’m not sure that’s the case, but I would be surprised if there weren’t a few callous actuaries in Her Majesty’s Treasury rubbing their hands with glee at the savings to be made because we’re not staying alive as long as the Estonians. Probably not the same ones who are rejoicing at the savings to be made in health, education and infrastructure costs when the Estonians, Poles and Lithuanians leave the country in droves after Brexit, but that’s another story.

If we really are choosing an earlier death over medically-prolonged decrepitude, is that such a bad thing? Ask me when I’m decrepit and nearing death. But I certainly believe that medically-assisted death at a time of my choosing is definitely not a bad thing, provided the safeguards to prevent involuntary euthanasia are in place. Better by far than making a botched effort myself.

Time, perhaps, to revisit our laws. Until medical science can guarantee a physically healthy, dementia-free journey into the nineties for the majority of the population, we should perhaps stop celebrating increases in life expectancy. After all, surely it’s not about length, but all about quality. And more money available for the rest of us. No, no – forget I said that.

From → Social, UK

One Comment
  1. Utterly superlative. As per usual…

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: