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Is Age Discrimination Acceptable?

When the coronavirus overwhelmed Italy’s health-care system, a working group of the Italian Society of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation, and Intensive Care reluctantly supported rationing by age. They were right to do so.

MELBOURNE – Should we value all human lives equally?

This question arose in an acute form in March, when the coronavirus overwhelmed Italy’s health-care system. Envisaging a situation in which there would not be enough ventilators for all patients needing one, a working group of the Italian Society of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation, and Intensive Care reluctantly supported rationing by age, while also taking into account frailty and the severity of any other health problems. The group’s aim was to support those with the greatest chance of survival and likely to have the most years of life ahead of them.

Proposals for age-based rationing were discussed in many countries, and often met with opposition. In the United Kingdom, for example, Catherine Foot, director of evidence at the Center for Ageing Better, said that such proposals show “a dangerous kneejerk ageism, where the older we get, the less value we have and the less important our lives are to save.”

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