Former surgeon general Dr. C. Everett Koop once told me why he believes the euthanasia movement will someday dwarf the abortion phenomenon. It is because of what he called "the squaring of the pyramid."1
Through the centuries, age patterns of populations have been triangular in nature. The greatest number of people in a society were the youngest, represented by the base of the pyramid. The fewest number were the oldest, symbolized by the peak. In our society, however, these classic demographics have been modified. The huge number of babies born after World War II are moving through the midlife years and will soon square off the top of the pyramid.
Conversely, the effect of abortion on demand has thinned the ranks of the young. These unusual patterns will soon create enormous problems. As the large number of baby boomers move into their sixties and seventies, we will experience a serious crisis in the provision of health care. There just aren't as many baby busters as boomers, and the Generation X crowd is outnumbered as well. The upshot is that there will be fewer younger workers to support this crowd of retirees. The newer generation will be saddled with a weighty financial burden it may not be willing or able to bear.
A scenario like this one will be commonplace in that day: A forty-year-old husband and wife will be asked to support their seventy-five-year-old grandmother who has terminal cancer. Because of the shortage of health-care services in the aging population, the family will be saddled with enormous medical costs for Grandma's treatment. If they have to continue paying for her care, they will lose their home and their eighteen-year-old daughter will not be able to go to college.
But if the grandmother will do the responsible thing and take an early exit, the family's financial integrity will be preserved and the people she loves can go on with their lives. Some members of the older generation will feel obligated to commit suicide. After all, they've lived a full life, and they shouldn't be selfish at this late date. Why not do the honorable thing?
For this reason, said Dr. Koop, the pressure on many in the older generation to accept physician-assisted suicide will be irresistible.
The former governor of Colorado Richard D. Lamm made no secret of his support for suicide among the elderly. He has argued that they have a moral responsibility to get out of the way and make room for the younger folks.2 What a warped perspective--and yet one that continues to gain a foothold in Western nations.