Health News Digest


September 28, 2015

Are You Over 70?   Are You Ready To Die?

By Michael D. Shaw

Where did this headline come from, you may ask. All in good time, my little pretty. All in good time. We must start with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, coming out of the United Nations.

A few months ago, this column examined the dubious and somewhat contradictory notion of “sustainability,” shortened from the original 1987 version “sustainable development.” The best working definition of this term, which is then invoked countless times in hundreds of documents, is “Sustainability calls for a decent standard of living for everyone today without compromising the needs of future generations.”

Good luck finding any further clarification of what constitutes “decent,” or how we can be sure of the needs of future generations. How fortunate we are that our ancestors from 1925 did not compromise our needs for Internet connectivity, silicon chips, or antibiotics.

Among other things, the 1987 document acknowledged that increased energy production would be needed to improve the lives of the poor. Then, as now, such an increase would have to rely mostly on conventional fossil fuels, or Heaven forefend, nuclear power. Funny how the noble goal of helping the poor is in opposition to Greenie fantasies.

As described in an article appearing in The Lancet, in January, 2015 by Norheim et al., “During 2015, the UN will formulate 2016–30 Sustainable Development Goals, of which one (SDG3) will relate to health.” In total, there are 17 goals, subdivided into 169 more specific targets. This work was driven by the Rio+20 UN conference on sustainable development (June, 2012).

SDG3 is “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” Other goals include:

  • End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

A specific target within SDG3 is as follows: “[3.4] By 2030 reduce by one-third pre-mature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through prevention and treatment, and promote mental health and wellbeing.” (sic) So, what is “premature mortality”? No worries. Norheim et al tell us. After all, their article is entitled “Avoiding 40% of the premature deaths in each country, 2010–30: review of national mortality trends to help quantify the UN Sustainable Development Goal for health.”

Premature deaths are “under-70 deaths that would be seen in the 2030 population at 2010 death rates.” Ignore everything after “under-70 deaths,” since the notion of applying 2010 death rates is a qualifier added only to soften the blow, and has no purpose, other than to make the authors’ calculations easier.

Not surprisingly, this definition has not set well with those over 70 years old. Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, professor of social policy and international development at the University of East Anglia, was the lead author of a letter written in response to Norheim et al, and published in The Lancet on May 30, 2015 entitled “A premature mortality target for the SDG for health is ageist.”

Here are two choice quotes from the letter:

“[T]he concept of premature mortality—which has come to the fore in debates about non-communicable diseases and about the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—has the potential to undermine the cherished, fundamental principle of health as a universal right for all. Put simply, the [Norheim] article tells policy makers, particularly in low-income countries, that people aged 70 years and above do not matter.”

“In their discussion, the authors observe that ‘in old age death is inevitable’. Death is an inevitable part of life, but that does not mean we should set policy priorities that explicitly exclude those people who are often in the greatest need and face the most hardship.”

Actually, the authors’ full observation is “In old age death is inevitable, but death before old age is not.” This was taken from Sir Richard Doll’s forward to a report on mortality from smoking in developed countries, and its inclusion is misleading and disingenuous. They follow the Doll quote with this gem “World life expectancy is now just over 70 years, and most deaths before that age are avoidable.”

Avoidable, are they? If that’s the case, I’m waiting for the mother of all class action lawsuits. What self-serving mindless nonsense—and published in a leading medical journal.

Yes, Norheim and his ilk are exactly the sort of people who should be setting health policy. Death panels, indeed.