Geronticide: Killing the Elderly

By Mike Brogden.

Jessica Kingsley

ISBN 1 85302 709 X


We live in a different world after Harold Shipman. The trial and
the resulting public anxiety about trust in professionals has meant
that the deliberate and systematic killing of older people is no
longer seen as remote or part of other societies. Mike Brogden’s
overview of the subject starts and finishes with Shipman, but his
main discussion explores how geronticide has been and continues to
be a feature of “care” for the aged.

Brodgen argues that geronticide was prevalent in the past and
provides evidence in the form of illustrations from religious
sources, folklore, poetry and literature in confirmation. These are
drawn globally and over the centuries.

Contemporary geronticide is presented as death hastening, either
through rationing of resources or treatment, or through social
pressures leading to calls for euthanasia or suicide. Long-term
care is portrayed as a matter of bureaucratic disposal. Private
provision is singled out for particular criticism. Accounts of poor
or cruel practices in long-term care at times may be presented
simplistically and out of context, says Brogden. This contrasts
with the sophistication of the debate on euthanasia.

Brogden’s pace and broad coverage, drawing a range of
gerontological theories, make for a good read. There are plenty of
big ideas, with keen insights into the vulnerabilities of some
groups of older people. Numerous accounts are given to suggest that
the poor and women have fared comparatively worse. They have been
ignored, mistreated or subject to direct assault or murder in the
case of women conceived as witches.

This book, then, is compelling on the level of its sweeping
themes and illuminating in its often harrowing reports of
individual abuse and death. It may also encourage further reading
on this subject. At a time when the National Service Framework has
made strong calls for anti-ageist values, this book provides
evidence of the excesses of ageism. However, it has less to say
about the means to challenge them.

Jill Manthorpe is senior lecturer, social work
department, University of Hull.

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