Ken Connor

In his 2007 book Boomsday, Christopher Buckley writes of a fictional future where an overwhelming number of elderly baby boomers are given tax incentives to end their lives early. With recent developments out of Switzerland, Buckley’s tongue-in-cheek novel may prove all-too-prescient.

The Swiss canton of Vaud just passed a law mandating that doctors in hospitals and nursing homes provide assistance to anyone who wants to commit suicide, as long as they are of sound mind. This is hardly a new step for the Swiss, who've been undermining human dignity for years, but it's a short step from legalizing this "easy out" to encouraging it, particularly in this economy. And don't think it can't happen here – just remember that assisted suicide has been legal in Oregon, Washington, and Montana for years.

Think about it: Here in the USA, we are experiencing the “graying of America.” The huge cohort of baby boomers is retiring, and the smaller X and Y generations will be forced to shoulder the burden of their end of life costs – the costs of an over-65 population group that is projected to double in size by 2040, while the over-85 age group nearly triples! The attitude of many boomers is summed up by the bumper sticker that proudly proclaims, "I'm spending my children's inheritance." Seventy per cent of this burgeoning senior generation will require institutional care, and you can bet they'll be looking to their promised entitlements, and not their savings, to care for them.

Except, the entitlements aren't long for this world. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are on the brink of bankruptcy. Our politicians have underfunded these obligations for years in order to give us the artificially-large subsidies we demand. Aging boomers will need to tax the younger generations ever more heavily to subsidize their final years. But how long will the young tolerate such a burden? How long will they be able to withstand the strain? In 1950 we had 16 workers for every retiree; now we have 3.3. Over the next 40 years, that number will dwindle to 2!

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.