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What is the ethics of ageing?

Abstract

Applied ethics is home to numerous productive subfields such as procreative ethics, intergenerational ethics and environmental ethics. By contrast, there is far less ethical work on ageing, and there is no boundary work that attempts to set the scope for ‘ageing ethics’ or the ‘ethics of ageing’. Yet ageing is a fundamental aspect of life; arguably even more fundamental and ubiquitous than procreation. To remedy this situation, I examine conceptions of what the ethics of ageing might mean and argue that these conceptions fail to capture the requirements of the desired subfield. The key reasons for this are, first, that they view ageing as something that happens only when one is old, thereby ignoring the fact that ageing is a process to which we are all subject, and second that the ageing person is treated as an object in ethical discourse rather than as its subject. In response to these shortcomings I put forward a better conception, one which places the ageing person at the centre of ethical analysis, has relevance not just for the elderly and provides a rich yet workable scope. While clarifying and justifying the conceptual boundaries of the subfield, the proposed scope pleasingly broadens the ethics of ageing beyond common negative associations with ageing.

  • aged
  • ethics
  • allocation of health care resources
  • prolongation of life and euthanasia
  • quality/value of life/personhood

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