An “aging” India that does not care for its elderly
by Dr Pascoal Carvalho  (For the F.I.A.M.C.)
In our society there is a tyrannical dominance of an economic logic that excludes and at times kills, and  of which nowadays we find many victims, starting with the elderly.” These were the words of Pope Francis in his message to the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV), which is currently holding its plenary assembly on the theme of “Aging and Disability”. “Health is without doubt an important value,” the Holy Father continued, “but it does not determine the value of a person. Furthermore, health is not by itself a guarantee of happiness, which may indeed be experienced even by those in a precarious state of health.”
The aim of the four-day gathering, hosted this year at the Augustinianum Institute in Rome, is to explore the role of the Church in helping men and women confront the mental and physical challenges that come with age. A gloomy picture is traced of India, which has the second highest number of elderly in the world. The traditional extended family is becoming less common, and “grandparents” are often left on their own.
By 2021 India could have 140 million elderly, but not the ability (or willingness) to take care of them. The warning comes from the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) , at the conclusion of their plenary assembly on “Ageing and Disability” (20-21 February), held at Rome’s Augustinian Patristic Institute. Currently, India has the second largest elderly population in the world [(Chronicle Pharmabiz Oct 18/12). The size of elderly population has risen from 12.1 million in 1901 to 77 million in 2001. It is predicted the number will grow 140 million in 2021. India’s demographic structure is expected to shift dramatically from ‘a young to an aging population’ resulting in 316 million elderly persons by 2050. The change , however, is not just a question of numbers . Indian society is progressively abandoning the  traditional “extended family” – where the adult children cared for (even though they live together) all the elders of the house – while so-called “nuclear families” are proliferating. The elderly often find themselves alone, with no one to care for them, and without help from the state. This is conformed by the Global Age Watch Index ( Gawi ), which ranks 91 countries (from best to worst) according to the conditions of  life of the elderly. India is 73rd.
“The government ignores the rights and needs of the elderly. Regrettably, the Interim Budget for 2014-15 has ignored the rights of the elderly and deprived people. “Far from being pro-people, the budget has clearly exposed its bias towards the rich and privileged by undertaking fiscal consolidation at the cost of high priority development expenditure aimed at reaching out to the most vulnerable sections of the population, In India around 32 percent of elderly males and 72 percent of elderly women being dependent on others for sustenance, and it is fundamental that the government universalise old age pension entitlements and improve the pension amounts so the elderly, women and people living with disability can live with a modicum of dignity and self respect”
The Catholic Church of India, through its Healthcare Apostolate tirelessly serves the aging and elderly and destitute, without discrimination, through our healthcare infrastructure, often located in very remote unreachable areas of our country, touching their lives of millions of elderly with compassion and committed care. Moreover, Pope Francis, at various times, in this first year of his Pontificate, stressed the need to respect and take care of the elderly, saying a society that didn’t do this had no future.” Preaching at his morning Mass in the Santa Marta, the Pope had on an early occasion said it was “unfortunate that we live in a time where the elderly are not valued and are put to one side because they are considered a nuisance.
The Pontifical Academy for Life is celebrating its 20th Anniversary, was established in 1994 by Blessed  John Paul II to be a kind of institute for studying the fields of “biology, medicine and ethical issues.

Coming of age brings new challenges in the area of physical and intellectual abilities. These disabilities often alter the lives and autonomy of the human person, increasing the challenges for the individual, their family, the Church and society.

The Pontifical Academy for Life will dedicate the XX General Assembly of Members 2014 to bringing science and faith together in service to those aging into disability (20-21 February 2014).

– Press Release (February 12, 2014)

Workshop “Aging and Disability” (brochure in English)

– Workshop “Invecchiamento e disabilità” (brochure in Italian)

– Workshop Program 2014 (pdf)


  • Pope to Academy for Life: bad health or disability never a reason for exclusion, elimination

    2014-02-20 Vatican Radio

    (Vatican Radio) “The loss of health and disability are never a good reason for excluding, or worse, for eliminating a person” – that’s what Pope Francis says in a message dated February 19th to the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Msgr. Carrasco de Paula. The Council, established by John Paul II with the publication of the Motu Proprio “Vitae Mysterium” on February 11, 1994, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this month.
    Listen to Tracey McClure’s report: 
    In his message to the president and participants of the Council’s General Assembly, Pope Francis recalls that the institution’s specific task is to study and provide information and training regarding biomedical ethics and law – particularly in the promotion and defense of life.
    This service, the Pope writes, helps put science and technology “at the service of the human person” and contributes to “the integral good of the person.”
    Describing the Assembly’s theme, “Ageing and disability” as “a very topical one…dear to the Church,” Pope Francis says “In fact, in our societies we find the tyrannical rule of an economic logic that excludes and sometimes kills.” He notes that many have fallen victim to this logic, especially “our elderly.”
    Referring to our society today, the Pope uses the expression, “throwaway culture” which we’ve often heard him use before, adding that this attitude “is even promoted.”
    But, the Pope warns, “It is no longer simply the phenomenon of exploitation and oppression, but of something new.” With exclusion, the idea of “belonging” to the society in which one lives is struck to its very core, says the Pope. It no longer matters if you are “powerless” or “live in the slums” or “the outskirts” of society – you are simply “out.” The excluded are not “exploited” but rather, they are considered “waste” (it: rifiuti) or “leftovers.”
    In a rapidly ageing society, the Pope notes, elderly people, especially those who are “sick, disabled, or vulnerable for any reason” are targets for exclusion. People seem to forget, he says, that relations between people are always based on “mutual dependence,” which varies in degree according to “sickness, disability, suffering in general.” This is where “interpersonal and community relationships” are needed to assist those who require help.
    Pope Francis reflects here on the value we place on people and on health, which can form “the basis of discrimination and exclusion.” “Health is certainly an important value, but it does not determine the value of the person,” the Pope writes.
    Moreover, the lack of good health and disability “are never a good reason to exclude, or worse, to eliminate a person.” The worst deprivation that older people suffer, he stresses, “is not the weakening of the body and disability” but “abandonment, exclusion, deprivation of love.”
    The family teaches us to welcome and provide solidarity to others. In the family we learn that “the loss of health is not a reason to discriminate” against certain individuals ; The family shows us the importance of “us” and keeps us from falling into the individualistic trap of “me.” It shows us how to care for others. Besides expressing solidarity, families must also advocate on behalf of the elderly who can continue to make important contributions to their communities.
    “A society is truly welcoming towards life when it recognizes that (life) is valuable even in old age, in disability, in severe disease and even when it is dying,” and “when it teaches that…human fulfillment does not exclude suffering” but holds it up as “a gift” that calls the entire community to “solidarity and responsibility.”