Opinion: “Unfortunately, older people all over the world have been denied the enjoyment of their basic human rights due to age discrimination.”

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In the mid-1880s, when the English poet Robert Browning wrote the tender verses “Grow old with me, the best is yet to come” for his wife Elizabeth, the average life expectancy in Victorian England was around 50 years. The upper classes might live longer, 57 for Elizabeth and 77 for Robert, but 50 would be old for most.

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The “deserving poor”, including those overage or unemployable, lived out their last days in almshouses or workhouses grudgingly maintained as public charities. A similar philosophy and institutional model for sheltering the elderly and very poor was adopted by Canada and was used well into the 20th century.

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In Canada, in 2022, thanks to major advances in medicine, science and technology, the average life expectancy is approximately 82 years. Today, those who are no longer able to work and lack independent means or family support may end up in government-funded long-term care homes. These care homes can, and too often do, rob the elderly of their autonomy and ignore their basic human rights.. Since most seniors in long-term care homes in Canada are women, the theme for the United Nations’ International Day of Older Persons on October 1 this year — the resilience and contributions of older women — was particularly appropriate.

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The growing awareness that advances in medicine and longer lifespans have not been accompanied by a recognition of the human dignity and value of older people has also led to a multinational demand from the 21st century for a United Nations convention that will specifically protect the human rights of older persons. . This proposed United Nations convention will be a legally binding instrument that will oblige governments to uphold the human rights of all older persons, to recognize and end continuing violations of their human rights, and to prevent the government from adopting any legislation that violates the human rights of older persons.

The need for such a human rights convention was formally recognized by the UN at a multi-stakeholder meeting on the human rights of older persons, organized in Geneva on August 29-30 by the High – Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights.

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Speaking at the UN meeting, Canadian psychiatrist Dr Kiran Rabheru, of the International Center for Longevity in Ottawa and the World Alliance for the Human Rights of Older Persons, said: “The world has never seen such rapid growth in the number of older people living unprecedentedly long and incredibly diverse and non-homogeneous lives. Unfortunately, all over the world, older people have been denied the enjoyment of their basic human rights due to age discrimination. This requires prompt action by all stakeholders at all levels, including the Human Rights Council. … “Ageism” is one of the main drivers of age discrimination against older people. Defined as the way we think, feel and behave towards them because of their age, ageism can be interpersonal, institutional or self-directed, is largely unconscious and socially accepted.

The International Center for Longevity has embarked on a campaign to raise awareness and combat ageism in Canada. The position of the federal government is unclear. He has now launched a national inquiry to examine the depth and extent of ageism in Canada, but has chosen not to participate in the United Nations process that will result in a legally binding convention on the human rights of older people.

Leslie Gaudette is President of the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of BC; Kathleen Jamieson is Chair of the Board Health Committee.

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