Japanese Minister Wants Old People to “Hurry Up and Die”

Japan's 72-year-old finance minister says "tube people" who can't feed themselves strain the state's social services.

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Japan's Finance Minister Taro Aso speaks at a news conference in Tokyo December 27, 2012.

Was the 72-year-old Japanese finance minister talking about himself when he said the nation’s elderly population they were a drain on the government’s resources? Kind of.

Taro Aso, who also serves as the deputy prime minister, had been in office little more than a month when he insulted Japan’s elderly on Monday, calling those who can no longer feed themselves “tube people,” and claiming that treatment for just one patient close to death can cost the government “tens of millions of yen” a month. London’s The Guardian reports that Aso, one of the wealthiest politicians in Japan, would refuse any treatment meant to prolong his life.

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“I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government,” he said during a meeting of the national council on social security reforms. “The problem won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die.”

In a country where the elderly are shown the highest deference and respect, Aso’s comments go particularly against the grain. People over 60 make up more than a quarter of Japan’s population, making it especially surprising that a senior politician would speak out so bluntly.

Japan’s aging population does cost the country’s strained social services, and the number of elderly people is only expected to increase. In just 20 years, projections suggest that seniors will outnumber children 15 and younger by nearly 4 to 1. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japan’s at-birth life expectancy is 83, one of the highest in the world. That imbalance means the ever-shrinking segment of people of working age will be burdened with the cost of paying to take care of their grandparents and great-grandparents.

Last year, 20-year-old Naoki Kakuta told the Washington Post he’s concerned for the country’s future.

“To me,” the college student said, “it sounds more and more like we’re passing this on to the younger people…I feel especially bad for the generation after mine. And that certainly doesn’t motivate me to have more children.”

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