The novelist Martin Amis’ newspaper interview at the weekend has caused widespread condemnation after he called for euthanasia booths on street corners, where elderly people can end their lives with “a martini and a medal”. The author even predicts a Britain torn by internal strife in the 2020s “‘if the demographic time bomb of the ageing population is not tackled head-on. There’ll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops. I can imagine a sort of civil war between the old and the young in 10 or 15 years’ time.”
Novelists depend on imagination to write their books, but for Amis to enter the real world and identify a situation that might indeed become a problem may have something to do with the fact that his latest novel is being published shortly, extracts appearing in the same paper which interviewed him.
Joan Brady in today’s Guardian writes : ageism seems to me almost indistinguishable from racism, a point that couldn’t be made clearer than Martin Amis makes himself: old people are ‘like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops’ That’s what racists say about anybody with a different skin colour or an alien head-dress: They stink’.
Brady continues ‘Its health that matters, not age. What people are capable of at my age (she has just turned 70) depends partly on that and partly on luck. I have a hereditary heart condition that flared up and called for major surgery. That was two years ago and I feel stronger than ever’. (She also is an author whose latest book is being published next month!.)
But this is more than a battle between novelists and raises again serious concerns which are in the public eye at the moment. There is a movement against compulsory retirement at 65 in this country, which we have referred to in these blogs.
But should older people continue to work beyond retirement age when young people can’t get jobs? Can the middle generation be expected to provide through taxes care for older people who can no longer care for themselves? Longevity is a phenomenon of our time and euthanasia is a moral issue that for me at least is not simple, but can no longer be ignored.When life has become hell and can no longer be seen as a sacred right, should it be possible to assist the ending of life?
Amis raises real issues in an offensive and trite way. But they are real.