Japan's Finance Minister said Monday that the elderly should be allowed to "hurry up and die" to save the country the cost of keeping them alive.
Taro Aso, who is also the country's Deputy Prime Minister, said during a meeting to discuss reforms to the country's social security program, "Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would
wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being
paid for by the government." He also added, "The problem won't be solved unless you let them hurry up and die."
Aso, who later claimed he was only speaking for himself, told local media that he would refuse expensive end of life care and had asked his family not to allow it to be used in his case. He also referred to those on feeding tubes as "tube people." None of this is likely to go over well with Japan's large elderly population.
About 25 percent of Japan's citizens are currently over the age of 60, and a newly released report found that 40 percent of Japanese households receive government welfare payments of some kind. Not surprisingly, Japan has a significant amount of resultant debt, something the IMF has been encouraging them to deal with by raising taxes.
Last year, in an effort to offset the costs of its social programs, including care for the elderly, the Prime Minister--who at the time was a member of Japan's center-left party--proposed a doubling of the national sales tax. The tax hike passed but was not popular with a faction of MPs in the party. A member of the anti-tax faction said of the increase at the time, "The majority of the lawmakers in our party have broken their promises to the nation by supporting this bill."
A few months after the tax increase passed, the people of Japan voted to return power to Japan's center-right party, of which Taro Aso is a member.
In the United States, similar statements about letting the elderly die were made as the President's Affordable Care Act struggled through Congress. Progressive firebrand Alan Grayson claimed on the House floor that the GOP healthcare plan was "Die quickly!" in 2009, though his stunt was obviously meant as a criticism of the opposition, not a recommendation. Grayson lost his seat in the 2010 elections but won in a new district in 2012.
In 2007, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich came closer to the tenor of Aso's remarks in a speech at Berkley. Reich was giving his college audience an idea of "what candidates should say" about health reform if they were really being honest with voters:
If you're very old, we're not going to give you all that technology and all those drugs for the last couple of years of your life to keep you, maybe, going for another couple of months. It's too expensive, so we're going to let you die.
Taro Aso has a history of making controversial statements about the elderly. In 2008, while serving as Prime Minister, he said, "I see people aged 67 or 68 at class reunions who dodder around and are constantly going to the doctor. Why should I have to pay for people who just eat and drink and make no effort?"