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Is elderly synonymous with ill?

  • Specialists are criticising the WHOfor including old age as a symptom in its next catalogue of illnesses

There is an old saying about age and illness going hand in hand, but the World Health Organization (WHO) is trying to make these two separate concepts rather more synonymous. This has enraged geriatricians, gerontologists and elderly people all over the world.

"They want to include old age as an illness in their next edition of the International Classification of Illnesses," says Juan G. Castilla Rilo, a clinical psychologist, social gerontologist and member of the Spanish Geriatrics and Gerontology Society (SEGG).

He considers this to be an attempt to associate ageing "with the negative label of illness, and to create a new negative discrimination based on age. It aims to make society see old age as something dangerous, and elderly people as those we should distance ourselves from," he says. But the question is, why?

It is true that there are different ways of getting old, good, bad and worse, but it is precisely because there are so many that it seems strange to want to link both concepts so closely.

Ask Jane Fonda, 83, who just before the pandemic was exhibiting her rebellious side by protesting against climate change on the steps of the US Capitol building, before she was arrested by the security forces. Or Company Segundo, now deceased, who was still singing and playing Cuban music on his harmonica at the age of 95. And there are plenty more like them.

Many people are wondering why the WHO wants to make this change, and one of them is the president of the SEGG, doctor and geriatrician José Augusto García Navarro. He explains the basis for this situation this way:

"Among its many obligations, the WHO is responsible for drawing up a classification of human illnesses, it is a catalogue with the name of the illness and a code for it. This is called the international statistical classification of illnesses and related health problems, and it is updated from time to time. In January next year, the 11th version will be published.

"The aim is for all the countries in the world, when they talk among themselves of the presence of illnesses in their populations or health services, to be able to compare and speak the same language.

"For example, when they talk about 'rheumatic fever', that could be code I00 for rheumatic fever without a cardiac effect or I01 which is rheumatic fever with a cardiac effect. So in this eleventh version of the catalogue, in the section of general symptoms, not illnesses, old age is classified with the code MG2A. That is 'old age without mention of psychosis', 'senescence without mention of psychosis' and 'senile debility'.

"We don't know why the WHO is doing this now, but it is a serious mistake," he says.

García Navarro considers that old age "is not an illness; in fact, the WHO doesn't say it is. It says it is a general symptom, but it isn't a symptom either. Ageing is actually a positive effect of the social and sanitary fight against illness".

What is this going to mean in practice?

García Navarro: It will mean that all of us, when we are older, will see how the health care services classify us, as well as by the illnesses we have, by our condition of somebody who is older or younger. It is a completely gratuitous and erroneous classification. It is erroneous because nowadays you can't talk about senile debility because it is not a scientific term. It is gratuitous because you only have to look at the date of birth, which is on every clinical file in every country, to see how old someone is. In practice it is a global act of age discrimination with three very serious implications: because it is global it will affect people all over the world; because it comes from such a prestigious institution it will be adopted; and because it is aimed directly against elderly people it is, once again, a sign of active discrimination against the older population.

Castilla Rilo: For me, the most serious aspect is that it runs the risk of the authorities not wanting to look into the causes of the deaths of elderly people, or carry out different treatments according to age. A situation that is not investigated doesn't exist and the causes are not investigated. That means we cannot advance scientifically because any pathology will be due to age or, more specifically, to old age.

Joe Biden and his 78 years

Why do you disagree?

Castilla Rilo: Because ageing combined with increased life expectancy has been one of humanity's and science's greatest achievements, and one of the greatest social and health care advances in recent years. Associating retirement or ageing with being ill is a new folly by the WHO, whose only objective seems to be to become complicit with a globalist agenda.

García Navarro: Because getting older is not an illness. It is the natural evolution of people as the years go by. They get older, not sicker. Think about healthy, active older people like Joe Biden, who at 78 is president of the United States and will be 79 in November. Would you classify him as 'MG2A senile debility'? No scientist in the world of biology, genetics, medicine... nobody would say that age is an illness. In fact, the healthiest people are the ones who grow old.

Can the decision be reversed?

Castilla Rilo: It hasn't happened yet, but there is an online draft and it looks as if it will come into force in 2022 if the scientific societies don't oppose it and put pressure on. Geriatricians, gerontologists and scientific societies who have specialised in ageing, we are all against this categorisation and we will oppose the concept with all the force we have.

García Navarro: I hope that it will be reversible and that the WHO will withdraw this classification. If they don't, then I propose passive resistence: that no health system anywhere in the world uses this code. If nobody uses it, it will be as if it did not exist. I can assure you that no specialists in geriatrics in any country in the world is going to use this code.

A socially non-productive person

Do you think this declaration could affect elderly people psychologically?

Castilla Rilo: Well, it is a piece of news that society has missed, but it is very serious. The declaration itself probably won't have any immediate effects, but it entails age discrimination in everything to do with health and everything subsequently associated with the deaths of elderly people and social discrimination. So it could have psychological effects such as anger, sadness or even fear, when those affected see themselves treated as a socially non-productive person who can just be ignored.

García Navarro: Elderly people are more intelligent than a statistical classification, no matter which organisation comes up with the classification. An older person who has a working life and is socially active won't care. And one who is more dependent and vulnerable won't take any notice either. It won't affect them psychologically. It will simply be, for them, one element more to add to the discrimination that society already holds against elderly people.

Are we talking about ageism here?

García Navarro: Of course. Ageism in capital letters. Getting old is not an illness. Getting old is a success.

The WHO knows that. And I hope that their statisticians will be told that before publishing the classification of illnesses.