Pontifex Says: Neglecting the Elderly = Covert Euthanasia. The Justice Issue We Ignore.

Pontifex Says: Neglecting the Elderly = Covert Euthanasia. The Justice Issue We Ignore. October 2, 2013

It was not without reason my friend John rebelled at the thought of going into a nursing home: the majority (60%) of nursing home residents have no visitors, which isn’t surprising when you consider that more than 50% of nursing home residents have no close relatives and an incredible 46% have no living children. When you compound those numbers with the astounding estimate that as many as nine out of 10 U.S. nursing homes are understaffed (and many of those staff are underpaid), you can begin to see why the institutions are dreaded and feared–and why many people quickly decline when they enter them.

When he was a cardinal, Pope Francis remarked that ignoring the elderly amounts to “covert euthanasia.” We’re guilty of this by the simple fact that Pope Francis’ comments on World Youth Day about women and the gay community received widespread media attention, while these remarks merited little to no attention whatsoever:

“A people has a future if [they] go forward with both elements: with the young, who have the strength, and things move forward because they do the carrying, and with the elderly, because they are the ones who give life’s wisdom. […] We do the elderly an injustice. We set them aside as if they had nothing to offer us.”

My friend John played the saxophone in multi-racial jazz bands in New York City in the 1930s and served his community as a volunteer firefighter for 50 years without once missing a meeting. He was similarly faithful as a church member and Sunday school teacher, and the consummate family man. His hair turned prematurely white after he used his bayonet to gently probe the sands of Iwo Jima for hidden explosives to deactivate. After being shot, he spent more than two years in military hospitals battling infection and fighting to keep his life and his leg. When I was a ballet-obsessed 10-year-old, he built me my very own barre out of repurposed scraps.

What could a young evangelical have taught him about cultural engagement, creativity, self-sacrifice, faithfulness, generosity, thrift, courage, or suffering? What young evangelical could not have failed to learn a thing or two from his long and remarkably full life?

I certainly did.

As the ranks of older Americans continue to swell, we who are young must reject the cultural narratives equating aging with decline and increasing irrelevance. We must resist the falsehood that it’s our generation that really “gets” it and realize how much older people have to teach us.

And we must remember to call and visit the older people in our lives—bringing coffee and compassion, leaving behind the condescension—remembering they were once as young as we, and that, if God wills, we will one day be as old as they.

{from my first–and recent–contribution to Q Ideas. Please click through to read it all.}

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