27th ORDINARY SESSION OF THE HUMAN
BY H.E. ARCHBISHOP SILVANO M. TOMASI
PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE HOLY SEE TO THE UNITED NATIONS
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS IN GENEVA
ON THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS OF ELDERLY PEOPLE
Monday, 15 September 2014
The number of elderly persons within the general population is fast
increasing, and is foreseen to double within the next decade, tripling by 2050,
thus reaching the number of two billion older persons. Rightly, the Report of
the Independent Expert highlights such information and the actions undertaken by
her predecessor and, more recently, by her own efforts to promote and expand
respect for the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.
The significance of this demographic trend too often is calculated only on
the basis of projected economic impact. Thus one global economic "think tank"
recently warned that "[t]he unprecedented pace of aging will have a significant
negative effect on economic growth over the next two decades across all regions,"
and concluded that "[t]he demographic dividend that drove economic growth in the
past will turn into a demographic tax."(1) My delegation is concerned, Mr.
President, that such limited vision could constitute a serious threat to the
full enjoyment of rights by older people. Regrettably, today’s efficient society
tends to marginalize our vulnerable brothers and sisters, including older
persons, as if they were only a "weight" and a "problem" for society.(2) To the
contrary, the increasing number of older people, especially those who remain in
good health, also means that they can make their contributions to society for
longer periods of time. However, in order to assure that such positive
developments will take place, we need to strategize and implement new approaches
to structuring society in general, the world of work, health care infrastructure
and delivery, the development of technology, intellectual property rights,
social protection systems, and intergenerational social relationships.(3)
We noted with much interest, Mr. President, the reference made by the
Independent Expert to The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing that
imposed on States the responsibility "to take measures to address ageing in
order to achieve a society for all ages" and to mainstream "ageing into national
and global development agendas". Recall of this strategy is indeed timely during
this period when the international community focuses its energy and attention on
developing a Post-2015 Agenda. We feel compelled to raise the question, however,
of how well this plan has been achieved to date, especially when we read of
increasing numbers of ageing persons being constrained to leave their
traditional and familiar homes in high-income countries to seek haven in
developing regions of the world where the cost of long-term care is much less
expensive. Surely, when we speak of preserving the enjoyment of all human rights,
it is essential to respect and preserve, as far as possible the bonds of older
persons with loved ones and with a familiar environment. This is especially the
case when long-term, facility-based care becomes necessary for those who are
severely incapacitated or no longer are able to make safe and responsible
decisions for themselves.
In her Report, the Independent Expert made explicit reference to the
obligations of States, "deriving from the rights to life and to a dignified
death," while maintaining that imprisonment and/or application of the death
penalty for older persons should be prohibited.(4) On various occasions, the
Holy See has urged States in all parts of the world to abolish the death penalty
within their respective jurisdictions. At the same time, the Holy See defends
and upholds the right to life for all persons, from the moment of conception
until natural death, and thus finds most alarming the increasing utilization of
so-called "assisted suicide," as well as the comments by some government
officials that such extreme and harmful actions may warrant additional
consideration since they could offer cost-saving benefits during a period of
Mr. President, a purely economic and functional approach toward elderly
persons risks to create a culture where the weakest and most fragile members of
society — the unborn, the poorest, the sick and elderly, the seriously
handicapped, etc. — are in danger of being ‘thrown away’ from a system that must
be efficient at all costs(5) and thus impoverish society of their wisdom,
experience, and enriching presence.
Thank you, Mr. President.
1) Population Aging Will Dampen Population Growth Over the Next Two Decades,
"Moody’s Investor Service, August 6, 2014, p.1.
2) cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Participants in the 22nd
International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, on
"The Pastoral Care of the Elderly Sick People", Vatican City, 17 November 2007.
3) Cf. "Recommendations on Good Practices for the Promotion of the Rights of
the Elderly", Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, Vatican City.
4) Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by
older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, United Nations General Assembly, A/HRC/27/46,
24 July 2014, par. 35.
5) Pope Francis, Message to Catholics taking part in annual Day for Life in
Britain and Ireland, 28 July 2013.