Tara Aso, Japan's finance minister, suggested that in order to "relieve pressure on the state to pay for their medical care" the elderly should "hurry up and die."
The 72-year-old, who doubles as deputy prime minister, said he would refuse end-of-life care. "I don't need that kind of care," he said in comments quoted by local media, adding that he had written a note instructing his family to deny him life-prolonging medical treatment.
To compound the insult, he referred to elderly patients who are no longer able to feed themselves as "tube people". The health and welfare ministry, he added, was "well aware that it costs several tens of millions of yen" a month to treat a single patient in the final stages of life.
Cost aside, caring for the elderly is a major challenge for Japan's stretched social services. According to a report this week, the number of households receiving welfare, which include family members aged 65 or over, stood at more than 678,000, or about 40% of the total. The country is also tackling a rise in the number of people who die alone, most of whom are elderly. In 2010, 4.6 million elderly people lived alone, and the number who died at home soared 61% between 2003 and 2010, from 1,364 to 2,194, according to the bureau of social welfare and public health in Tokyo.
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