Elderly Are Treasure, Not a Burden, U.N. Is Told

Agency Preparing for Assembly on Aging

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NEW YORK, MAR. 14, 2001 (Zenit.org).- In rich nations, the elderly are often neglected, something that is not common in poor countries, the Vatican´s permanent observer at the United Nations said recently.

“Who are these older persons?” Archbishop Renato Martino asked during the meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the second World Assembly on Aging. “Are older persons those who have reached 60, or 70, or 80 years? Maybe it depends upon the direction from which the age is viewed.”

The Vatican representative wondered why the elderly in the developed world must end their days “abandoned or forgotten in a care center or nursing home, while so many in the developing world view old age with reverence, and older persons are respected and valued as a treasure of wisdom, tradition and heritage?”

Archbishop Martino added that it “is horrible to think that just as the world begins to make great advances in prolonging the lives of individuals, a reverence and respect for life has been lost. It seems impossible to believe that the taking of life has become, in some places, an acceptable alternative.”

Referring directly to euthanasia, Archbishop Martino said that for “many older persons, such changes in legislation or medical practice, or the threat of those changes, have become a new source of fear and anxiety, and can indeed weaken the fundamental relationship of unconditional trust that they have a right to place in those whose mission is to care for them.”

To live longer should not be regarded as exceptional, or as “a burden or challenge,” but rather as “the blessing that it is. Older persons enrich society,” he stressed during the Feb. 26 meeting.

Therefore, the “United Nations must ensure that the world is prepared to recognize and respect the human dignity of older persons and enable them to be full participants in society, rather than viewing them as a challenge to the community,” the permanent observer concluded.

The U.N. General Assembly has decided to convene a second World Assembly on Aging sometime in 2002, in part to adopt a revised plan of action and a long-term strategy on aging.

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