A Belgian businessman has a solution to the pensions crisis. It’s called euthanasia

The Titanic sank after it collided with an unseen iceberg. Western societies with low birthrates are steaming straight towards an iceberg in broad daylight. But they refuse to change course.

The problem is this. As birthrates drop, there are fewer and fewer productive workers and more and more unproductive elderly. The tax burden on the workers grows heavier and heavier. Pension funds will begin to run out of their reserves and benefits will shrink. The iceberg of a pensions crisis looms on the horizon in many countries. And there aren’t enough lifeboats.

Every economist knows this. Every politician should know this. But the Titanic steams ahead towards the iceberg.

Finally someone has proposed a way to avert disaster.

The president of Belgium’s biggest health care fund, Christian Mutualities (CM), wants to throw the elderly overboard.

Luc Van Gorp told Belgian media earlier this week that people who are tired of life should be allowed to end it through euthanasia.

Like all other European countries and, indeed, the rest of the world apart from sub-Saharan Africa, Belgium faces a huge increase in its elderly. Over-80s will double by 2050, from around 640,000 today to 1.2 million. Financial pressure on healthcare, medication and nursing homes will increase.

More money is not the solution, says Van Gorp. “No matter how much you end up investing, it will still not be enough. There are simply not enough health workers to do the job,” he said. “Do we really need all those extra residential care centres? Just building up rooms without doing anything about the staff shortage is not a sustainable model. I miss the why-question in elderly care. Why do we do business the way we do them now? There is often no answer to this.”

He is in favour of “a radically different approach” – not asking “how long can I live?”, but “how long can I live a quality life?”. He wants euthanasia to be an option for Belgians who believe that their lives are complete, not just for those who are terminally ill or suffering unbearably.

“Suicide is too negative a term,” says Van Gorp. “I would rather call it: giving life back. I know it is sensitive, but we really have to dare to have that debate.”

In an interview with the Flemish newspaper Nieuwsblad, Van Gorp declared:

“Everyone wants their parents and grandparents to stay as long as possible, right? But do those people want that themselves? And what do they need for that? These questions are asked too little. Some people over 80 will not need anything at all to age well. They will even be able to support others, for example by keeping them company. Others need a lot of care, and – just to be clear – we must continue to provide it.

“But what about the category of elderly people who receive maximum care, but who still do not have the quality of life they desire? That question is asked far too little.”

Although some Belgian politicians supported Van Gorp, at least one appealed to compassion and solidarity.Christian Democrat leader Sammy Mahdi said that his country was becoming a “throwaway society”. “This makes me angry,” he wrote on X. “If someone is tired of life and feels they are in the way or don’t get visitors anymore, aren’t we just failing as a society?”  Human dignity is not a lost cause in in Belgium -- not yet, anyway. 



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But Van Gorp doubled down on his remarks. In an op-ed for the Belgian newspaper De Morgen, he wrote: “The demand for care will only increase in the coming years. If we just keep doing the way we are doing today, we’re going for an outright care crash. We can only prevent this if we choose a radically different approach, from a healthy society that puts quality of life first instead of quantity.”

He called for an urgent national debate about the issue: “As delicate as it is, we must dare to enter into the debate about quality of life, including at the end of life. Better today than tomorrow.”

Van Gorp’s brutal candour has broken the ice. Hardly anyone in public life in Europe or the United States has dared to link the pensions crisis with the right to die debate. But it’s becoming obvious that euthanasia would save money for governments with increasingly tighter budgets for healthcare.

Of course, Van Gorp is talking about voluntary euthanasia. But it’s not hard to imagine a government media blitz to convince frail, sick, lonely, and childless residents of nursing homes that they are burdens and would be better off dead. The border between voluntary and involuntary is easily crossed.

I’ve always believed that a society which denies unborn babies a right to life will eventually overcome its scruples about imposing on the elderly a duty to die. After Luc Van Gorp’s outspoken proposal, that day may not be as far away as we think. 

Is euthanasia for the elderly just science fiction? Share this article with your friends!

Michael Cook is editor of Mercator 

Image credit: Luc Van Gorp / Twitter


Showing 11 reactions

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  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-04-15 13:51:16 +1000

    On a global scale, I do not think there is a crisis. As you point out, we are in no danger of running out of people any time soon.

    In fact I think a slow decline in global population down to about half our present number would be a good thing. I’m always aware that in the year I was born, 1945, nearly two thirds of the Earth was wilderness. Now it’s less than a quarter. That’s what I call a crisis.

    I do not under estimate the problems caused by an ageing and declining population but they’re more tractable than those posed by a population that expands indefinitely.

    However, if you move from the global scale to individual countries I can see problems from a too rapid population collapse. Ideally a fertility rate of 1.8 – 1.9 would be about right.

    In the mean time countries with declining populations are just going to have to learn to accept higher immigration rates, much of it from Africa. Some countries, including Australia, deal with this reasonably well. Around 30% of our population is foreign born.

    Other countries struggle.

    So far as abortion goes, I think the best abortion is the one that is unnecessary because adequate support is available. However I do not have moral qualms about abortion in the first trimester and I think calling fertilised eggs in test tubes “preborn children” is preposterous. They are not and never have been in any way conscious.

    My point about Francis is simply that he is consistent – ie as concerned about the fate of born children as unborn ones. Most of the anti-abortion activists are hypocrites of the worst sort. I can’t stop myself despising them.

    I think euthanasia is a matter of individual choice. At the same time I think more can be done to improve the quality of life of the elderly including just putting them to work where possible.

    Finally. I am encouraged by recent trends in medical research where there is a shift to treating the ageing process rather than the diseases of ageing. The focus is on increasing “healthspan” rather than lifespan. Imagine if people were mostly in good health until they died.

    As for borrowing, I think we need a thread on the nature of money. All money is, always has been and always will be a “con trick”. That applies as much to gold as to the fiat currencies of today.

    You cannot eat gold. You will accept gold as payment because you are confident you can exchange it for food. “Con” is short for “confidence.”

    As for inflation, there is no doubt that if you print too much money you will have a bad inflation.

    But can you ever get rid of inflation in an economy dominated by oligopolies? I don’t think you can.

    Is a moderate amount of inflation always a bad thing? Or does it provide a buffer that enables you to recover from inevitable economic shocks?

    If you want to know what the opposite, deflation, looks like study the history of the great depression.

    We need to stop moralising about economic policy and start being pragmatic.

    You talk about a “sustainable equilibrium”.

    There is not and never will be an “equilibrium.” It’s one of the myths of the pseudo-science that calls itself economics.

    There are, always have been, and always will be periods of relative stability terminated by disruptions. If you want an example of a country that really tried hard to maintain a sort of equilibrium try the Soviet Union. They succeeded for a while at the cost of stagnation.
  • Frank den Hartog
    commented 2024-04-15 12:03:59 +1000
    Can somebody explain to me first if there is actually a crisis? The world’s birth rate is at 2.2. So, no problem there. It may not be equally distributed over the world, but that can be solved with migration. Sure, the birth rate may go below 2.1 at some stage, but we are not there yet. And even then, the world’s population is at a level at which we cannot use the world’s resources sustainably anymore, so shrinking a bit won’t necessarily hurt.
    So, here is what I think the so-called crisis is: the boomers (Steven’s 1945-2000 generation) got rich because they “borrowed” a LOT of money (and resources, and houses, and etc.) from future generations. Those future generations are the current generations and they find themselves struggling paying back the debts, let alone care for the now elderly boomers who took all that money from them without their permission. So now the boomers are complaining that they themselves (!) didn’t get enough kiddos to care for them. Whilst not wanting immigrants at their bed instead. So is this is a spiritual crisis? Yes, with the boomers. I.e. the crisis will solve itself soon enough. After which the world population will find some new, and this time sustainable, equilibrium.
    Back to the Belgian hot air balloon. I don’t think women will be inclined to get more children if those children are destined to live in a society that tells them they should be happy not having been aborted in the first place, and that will encourage them to commit suicide as soon as possible when things get tough.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-04-15 10:20:14 +1000
    “My first hypothesis is that it is (very broadly speaking) a spiritual crisis.”

    Bear with me.

    I’m focusing on Europe and North America.

    The year is 1800. Fertility rates are high but so are child mortality rates. You ’re beating the odds if more than half your children survive to maturity. There is also a significant risk of maternal mortality – estimates range between 5 and 30 per thousand births.

    Basic housing is cheap. Most people live in rural areas and are either directly, or indirectly, involved in agriculture.

    Health care expenses are not an issue because there’s not much healthcare around. Children don’t cost much. In rural areas, from about the ages of 6-8, they cease being a net expense and become an asset helping out.

    Fast forward to 1950. It is an era of unparalleled shared prosperity. Not only are economies growing but the benefits of the growth are widely shared. Many people foolishly think this is the norm. In reality the period 1945-2000 is the outlier and what we have now is the world reverting to normal.

    Housing is relatively cheap. Most people do not finish high school and for most kids education of adequate quality for the times is freely available. Kids are more expensive than in 1800 but not that much more and people are richer. Healthcare costs are much higher than 1800 but still relatively affordable. In fact even today 1950-style healthcare would be quite cheap.

    If you join a large corporation you can expect to work there for life. People enjoy an unparalleled degree of financial security.

    The 1950s are also an era of social cohesion. Most people know their neighbours. There are all sorts of civic organisations including religion but also including the much maligned trade unions.

    It is now 2024 and the cost of raising children is enormous. Few people can afford housing in areas accessible to jobs and good schools on a single salary. High school dropouts are usually condemned to a life of poverty. Even a college degree cannot guarantee a reasonable income.

    Healthcare quality has improved dramatically but the cost has skyrocketed – especially in the US. Education adequate to the times is no longer freely available.

    Jobs for life are a thing of the past. Financial IN-security is the norm.

    Most people don’t know their neighbours. Isolation rather than social-connectedness is the norm.

    And just as all this is happening new choices are opening up for women. They can have a career. In fact, given the cost of housing and raising children, they’d better. But the pill means they don’t have to have children.

    So here we are in 2024. For many young couples the task of raising children just seems too daunting. As one couple in my (vastly) extended family put it, “We just don’t feel up to it.”

    I just want to knock something on the head here. I have never heard anyone say they’re not having kids to save the planet. And if someone does say that and they’re driving around in SUVs while accumulating frequent fly points, you know they’re lying.

    But I have heard people say things like, “Will I still have a job this time next year?”

    It’s a real cause of anxiety.

    So here we are in 2024, disconnected, isolated, suffering existential angst, facing financial insecurity and finding the task of raising children just too hard. And, let’s be clear, it is harder than it used to be in the recent past.

    Much harder.

    Orders of magnitude harder.

    Comparing starting a family today to what used to be the norm before 1970 is silly. Conditions have changed.

    So question:

    Low fertility:

    Is it a spiritual crisis?

    Or is it an economic crisis?

    Or is it an economic crisis causing a spiritual crisis?

    My answer.

    None of the above.

    It is indeed a spiritual crisis.

    It’s a spiritual crisis that caused the economic crisis that caused the low fertility that is in turn is causing a spiritual crisis.

    Or, to quote Francis:

    “20. This way of discarding others can take a variety of forms, such as an obsession with reducing labour costs with no concern for its grave consequences, since the unemployment that it directly generates leads to the expansion of poverty.”

    In some ways Francis’ critique of contemporary capitalism echoes that of the bearded old Jew we’re all told to hate. That’s why it triggers people like Prager, a descendant of the Jewish “Red Diaper” generation.

    For all I know Marx was in turn echoing a previous generation of Catholic social justice warriors. In fact much of what Marx writes looks like an attempt to form a secular social justice movement in which Jews could feel comfortable. If you read a decent biography of Marx and his family you’ll know what I mean.

    Let’s face it. In Marx’s time a Jew joining the era’s Catholic social justice warriors would have been about as welcome as pork sausages at a Bar Mitzvah.

    So, my answer to you is this.

    Yes, the cause is a spiritual crisis. But the causality chain goes like this:

    Spiritual crisis => economic crisis => birth dearth => spiritual crisis => rinse and repeat.

    Hope that helps.
  • Michael Cook
    commented 2024-04-14 20:33:17 +1000
    Hullo, Steven,
    “articles bewailing falling fertility are a feature of this site”. Yes, perhaps so. We got in there early, when the conventional wisdom was that we were doomed because of over-population. A bit of bewailing is a salutary corrective, as far as I am concerned.
    As for suggested solutions, everyone is scratching their heads, including me. The word “solutions” normally conjures up subsidies of some kind or other. It is clear that these don’t work. Housing shortages don’t help.
    I think that inquiry is beginning to focus on the central issue: some women (and their partners) don’t want to have children. Others want only two at the most. What is the solution to that? You can’t force people to want to bring new life into the world. So we have to understand the reason why this is happening.
    My first hypothesis is that it is (very broadly speaking) a spiritual crisis. I’m open to ideas about how to grapple with that.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-04-14 19:37:35 +1000
    I agree David.

    My point is, articles bewailing falling fertility are a feature of this site. Most of them are of the “We’re doomed, ain’t it awful?” variety. Rarely are there any suggested solutions.

    Some time ago there was a an article praising corrupt wannabe Mussolini Victor Orban’s attempts to raise Hungary’s birth rate. So far any success is hard to spot.

    So this is by way of being a challenge. If you’re so concerned stop doom saying and suggest remedies.

    What would you do?

    And, no, we are not all going to become rural-dwelling Amish. Well, not unless a nuclear war or climate catastrophe destroys our civilisation in which case it’s a possibility. But then death rates will likely rise faster than birth rates.

    BTW Yemen has the highest fertility rate in Middle East/North Africa region with Gaza second. Maybe war is the answer.

    In Australia, urban fertility rates are about 1.6 while rural rates are just below replacement. We can speculate on why this is but I’d be surprised if cost was not a factor.

    In Israel the Haredi may have the highest fertility rates in the world. I have a feeling it would collapse if all those subsidies were withdrawn. A growing number of Israelis, including religious Israelis, regard Haredi men as parasites.

    Anyway, let’s see your solutions folks.

    What would you do?

    How would you make it happen?
  • David Page
    commented 2024-04-14 10:59:57 +1000
    Steven, women will have as many babies as they want. We will adapt and survive.
  • Frank den Hartog
    commented 2024-04-14 10:00:36 +1000
    The short term answer is well-managed and regulated immigration and automation. Managing and regulating immigration well is hard, so we also need stronger law enforcement. The long term answer is we should start treating families with children as the cornerstone of our society. A society where children are being loved and celebrated, and where elderly can actively contribute their wisdom.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-04-14 09:05:09 +1000
    “The Titanic sank after it collided with an unseen iceberg. Western societies with low birthrates are steaming straight towards an iceberg in broad daylight. But they refuse to change course.”

    So how do you “change course”?

    Specifically, how do you get women to have more babies.

    Let’s see some answers for a change.
  • David Daintree
    commented 2024-04-13 16:41:59 +1000
    But what about the waste of resources! Jonathan Swift wisely recognised that surplus Irish children could be eaten, thus achieving, in one stroke, an economically sensible reduction of population and an increase in the availability of cheap high protein nourishment.
    So why not eat old people? A little tougher perhaps, but oughtn’t we shake off our superstitious prejudices against selective cannibalism?
  • David Page
    commented 2024-04-12 16:30:22 +1000
    Robots and automation are the obvious solution. And that is happening now. One man’s opinion matters very little. I understand that our economic model requires endless population growth, but that will just have to adapt to the new reality.
  • Michael Cook
    published this page in The Latest 2024-04-12 12:47:34 +1000