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Dignity is not to 
be bartered


“Longevity is a blessing from God… Yet often society, dominated by the logic of efficiency and profit, does not welcome it as such, on the contrary, it often rejects it, considering elderly people as unproductive and useless,” Pope Benedict XVI told a group of senior citizens at the Saint Egidio Community Rest Home in Rome on November 12.

The pope added that while the sunset years of life can be problematic, as old age brings difficulties and limitations, these can be greatly aggravated by financial limitations.

He also spoke of the great benefit that older people can bring to society, telling his audience that they are of great value, especially to the young.

“There can be no true human education and growth without fruitful contact with elderly people, because their very existence is like an open book in which younger generations may find valuable guidance for their own journey through life,” he continued.

These reflections from the pope would seem to be at direct odds with the tone of press releases that have appeared in Hong Kong newspapers in recent days proclaiming that our senior citizens have missed out on another month’s support, as the government continues to argue the toss about proposed subsidy payments to elderly people.

Whatever about the rights and wrongs of the government stand on means testing, press releases of this nature read more like a notice of punishment than a sincere quest to contribute to the support of people who no longer are able to work for their living.

While there can be valid arguments both for and against the means test, the punitive tone of these announcements points more to a government miffed that not everyone wants to fall into line with its preferred way of doing things rather than one bent on helping those who need assistance. It even smacks of the how dare you disagree syndrome.

The cavalier fashion in which many needy aged people in Hong Kong society are being bartered in the policy trading does not reflect a government that regards its elderly citizens in the anything like same way as the pope paints them.

It is also cause to question government attitude towards all of its citizens, as Pope Benedict points out, “The quality of a society, of a civilisation, may also be judged by how it treats its elderly people and by the place reserved for them in communal life. To give space to the elderly is to give space to life!”

This is a long way from an attitude that tends to reduce everything to dollars and cents. The initial study on setting working hours in labour legislation is quick to quote scary costings running into the tens of billions of dollars, but fails to look at the human component that goes into developing a labour force of healthy people who can contribute to a healthy society.

Discussing the support of elderly people in terms of cost only, also denigrates their humanity, as it denies they contribute towards the welfare of the city, which is simply not true.

Ask the grandchildren who come to them for wisdom and affection, and the children who can rely on them for support in many different ways, from advice to baby-sitting.

While it may be somewhat dulled by the insensitivity that surrounds them, they do bring a ray of love to life. JiM