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Thoughts on euthanasia

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The old are not just dross
Katharine Whitehorn Writer
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I do the stuff for Saga, I do book reviews. People write to me now, they ask me to do things about being old. And it’s all right, I'm happy to have a constituency, and if it’s the aged, well there are a great many of them and it’s a growing population.

No, actually, the real answer to that... I’ll stop being flip about it. Still writing something is still energising more than anything else that happens. I’ve got, thank god, a super family, but the son who lives near, well he comes and, you know, fixes too high lightbulbs and, you know, copes with my computer troubles. Don’t... Let’s skip six paragraphs. And the other is in California, they’re lovely, but they’re not my social life. I’ve got lots of other friends and people.

But it is enormously nice not to feel that I’ve left the real world. And I think that for an awful lot of this generation of people living much longer than they expected to... and the interesting thing is, what are they going to do with all this extra time? I mean, they’re not just going to sit there and... I mean, you can’t spend what Richard Nicholson called 30 years of sabbatical, it’s just not on. You can’t spend 25 years watching telly and failing to cut the lawn.

And I do now think that the question of how we cope with old age... I'm perfectly certain that the absolutely first thing, and nobody can tell you differently, the retirement age has got to go up, and I think people talk very negatively about this. They talk as if we were still in the age where people began at the bottom of a firm and worked up to the top, and the people have got to fall off the top before the people at the bottom can move up. Look, we live in a short contract culture. The old also create jobs. There’s a good statistic that people... two good statistics. One is that start-ups, the ones that the women do have a slightly better success rate than the men. Probably because they had to agonise so much longer before they did it at all. And that the start-ups done by older people have a very high survival rate. So the old are not just dross.

A distinguished journalist and renowned author, Katharine Whitehorn has written for The Spectator and Picture Post. She was the first woman to have her own column in the Observer and was their star columnist for the best part of 40 years. Educated at Newnham College, Cambridge, she is recognised as someone who has transformed 20th century women's journalism. She takes a keen interest in social welfare issues, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and was the first woman rector of the University of St Andrews.

Listeners: Bob Bee

Bob Bee is a Scottish documentary maker who has made many films on the Arts and Science for ITV, BBC and Channel Four.

Tags: Saga Magazine, Richard Nicholson

Duration: 2 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2010

Date story went live: 16 February 2011