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The elderly deserve respect

On the occasion of the International Day of Older Persons, is publishing an Op-Ed which attempts to analyze the mistreatment of elderly people now and in the past, especially during times of crisis. It also endeavors to provide a lasting solution for maintaining a deep respect for the elderly.

Surely you all remember the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic. As the fear of death from the spread of the disease came over people, these sentences were frequently repeated, "Don't worry. The Coronavirus only takes victims from among the elderly and those with pre-existing diseases." In the meantime, few people were aware of what an emotional harm such words would have on the elderly.

However, after the disease had become more widespread, the Coronavirus revealed its frightening reality. And with the death of many younger people with no history of disease, the virus proved that it had no specific target in the community. Despite the greater risk to the elderly, being young did not provide much security. On the other hand, this trend also had no effect on improving the spirits of the elderly. The rapid spread of the disease, the surprise of governments and the existence of limited human resources, medical equipment and facilities forced some governments to make a choice in the treatment of patients. This necessity to choose groups led to the question that which group among human beings was more qualified to receive medical care. In response to this question, some people considered the time when patients referred to medical centers to be the criterion and another part considered the age of the patients. The first group prioritized those who came earlier, and the second group considered only young and middle-aged people eligible for receiving medical care. With these ideas, it was the older patients who were left out from the list of medical priorities and left to their own in many societies. Hence a headline in The Washington Post read, “The pandemic has exposed a painful truth: America doesn’t care about its older people.”[1]

It is true that being more vulnerable causes a higher percentage of older people to die than younger people, but evidence shows that a large part of this statistic is also due to the abandonment of the elderly and the lack of medical care for them. Shirley Doyen, director of a Christian nursing home in Brussels, said that after the Coronavirus spread to their center and several elderly people were infected. They begged medical centers to come to their aid, but they were told that they should give morphine to patients so that they could die in peace. One of them had even answered that one should just pray for them. And in the end, not only a large part of the elderly people living there but even a part of the support staff, died alone.[2] The staff of a Swedish nursing home reported the same experience to BBC. They said that they had not been given a respirator and had been told to give morphine.[3] Similar cases have been reported in Italy[4], Spain[5], and many other European, South American and North American countries even though many of those countries are among the most advanced countries in the world in terms of their healthcare systems. Due to these shortages in physicians and facilities for the elderly, in some care centers the staff of the center also fled and the elderly were left on their own.

There is a history of this

Although the Coronavirus pandemic is a big shock to the world and therefore it is somewhat natural for governments to find themselves challenged in caring for the sick, studies indicate that such neglect of the elderly is not limited to this time with a pandemic. This is a consistent trend that has now only intensified in this crisis. According to The New York Times, such problems in nursing homes and their lack of facilities has been going on for years, which has made them more vulnerable to the Coronavirus.[6] In The Atlantic, Ezekiel Emanuel, an American physician, has written that end-of-life care is very expensive in his country and that there is no help for home care. Since such care is useless and expensive, this often leads to the painful death of the elderly.[7]

The root of this kind of treatment of the elderly can be traced back to the worldview and overall policies of the government of any country. The liberal capitalist system considers man to be an economic being who is a means of production. Of course, according to liberal teachings, man's personal interests and individual freedom are respected, but these same interests and respect are only meaningful in relation to his material benefit and his role in the capitalist system. Based on such a viewpoint, human beings can serve the system of development as long as they have the ability to participate economically in society. When such a person loses his youthful energy, he gradually loses his active role in the economic cycle and turns into a consumer only. That is, the elderly are in fact "disabled" and therefore worthless. In other words, in the materialist worldview, as long as man is able to work and serve the material development of society, he/she is valuable and worthy of respect and honor (of course, a sort of strategic respect). And when people lose their ability to work and generate income, they lose their value and credibility. In such a situation, it is clear which groups of people in society have the right to live and enjoy more resources and which human beings become second-class citizens. Although this classification is not a written law, it is the result that this kind of life definitely brings about and it manifests itself in times of crisis.

In addition, people will base their decisions on profits in such a system. Adam Smith, known as the father of modern economics, considers the motives of selfishness and self-interest to be the most important motives for human activity as a general and universal rule in his most famous work The Wealth of Nations. Even rules in ethics and sympathetic and altruistic behaviors are ultimately pursued for the sake of self-interest, and they are discarded when they come in conflict with one’s own interests. It is this material utilitarianism that has taken away all meaning from true morality and human emotions and drawn a cruel picture of liberal capitalist societies.[8]

Human dignity, the pillar of the divine worldview

A concept of human function that is only based on economics and has an emphasis on utilitarianism in human behavior is rooted in Natural Theology (the school of Deism), which became popular after the European Industrial Revolution. According to the understandings of this school of thought, man relying on his intellect does not need Heavenly teachings, and the human intellect leads one to his/her own personal and economic interests.

The Islamic worldview is the opposite of this idea. This worldview has principles, the first of which is monotheism. Monotheism means the belief that the whole universe is made by one thought, strategy and power, and it did not come into being by chance. This belief is something that every sane mind and free-thinking human being embraces. Moreover, this great, infinite, indescribable thought and power that has created this strange, complex combination is not a man-made idol, a limited human being who is claiming divinity, or a symbol of myth and legend. Rather, it is the omnipotent essence that religions call "God" and He is known by His works. Thus, monotheism involves proving this power, this will and the engineering behind this vast, complex design. It also involves proving that this unique, indescribable engineer is not human or imaginary, and He is eternal.[9]

The second principle of the Islamic worldview is "the veneration of human beings." Based on this principle, all of creation revolves around human existence. That is, man was created with this potential to take over the entire universe in order to make the best use of it. This shows that this creature for whom God has subjugated the heavens, the earth, the stars, the sun, and the moon, must be very dear in His divine creation.[10] In this worldview, human beings are not valued and praised based on the role they play in production and economics. Rather, they find value in accordance with the degree to which they comply both in principle and practice with the divine rules and values. These rules and values strongly emphasize holding oneself responsible toward his/her fellow human beings, and even the environment and other creatures. Thus, monotheism does consider a social duty for human beings, and that duty is neither bound by time or by place, nor is it limited to a particular age group. In fact, the scope of human beings existence and validity is not limited to his/her physical utility (which decreases so greatly in old age). Therefore, no one has the right to question or deny the right to live on the pretext of one being old and disabled.

This conflict of worldviews can be an accurate measure of the authenticity of the schools of thought’s claims concerning “human dignity" and can better answer the question that which school of thought values ​​human beings more.









[8] Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Apr. 9, 2020. Statements made in a meeting with the National Committee on Combating Corona.

[9] Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Feb. 27, 2001. Statements made in a meeting with Cabinet Members.

[10] Ibid.

The views, opinions and positions expressed on Op-Ed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of


  • Corona pandemic
  • coronavirus
  • COVID19
  • International Day for Older Persons
  • The elderly