Press Release

Time for the EU to take a stand for the rights of the elderly

Up to half of the people who died of Covid-19 in Europe are elderly people and many of them were residents of long-term care facilities. “It is time to stop the ‘culture of waste’ and focus on more public policies supporting families”, states the General Secretary of COMECE on Wednesday 13 May 2020.

This Naples nursing home was evacuated on Thursday in an attempt to stop the virus spreading.(Credit: Getty images)

In the current pandemic, elderly people represent the most vulnerable part of our societies. The recent statistics published by the World Health Organization (WHO) paint a dramatic reality: over 95% of fatalities due to Covid-19 in Europe have been of people 60 or older, and up to half of them were residents of long-term care facilities.

Old people have the same rights to life and to health as everyone else. Article 35 of the EU Charter states that “Everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment under the conditions established by national laws and practices”.

However, due to the lack of a sufficient number of intensive care units in many EU Member States, during the most acute phases of the ongoing pandemic, hospitals were forced to give priority to younger patients over older ones.

“Difficult decisions around life-saving medical care will be avoided in the future only if we invest substantially in our health systems and implement policies that are truly supportive of families”, states Fr. Manuel Barrios Prieto, General Secretary of COMECE.

As the natural and fundamental group unit of society, family should receive particular attention from the political authority, at the national and EU level, “especially – continues Fr. Barrios Prieto – those families with more vulnerable members: young people, the elderly and persons with disabilities”.

“It is time to stop the ‘culture of waste’, says the COMECE General Secretary quoting Pope Francis and calling political authorities to courageously address this issue also in the context of the major demographic changes taking place in Europe.

COMECE calls on the European Commission to present its Report on demography and the Green paper on ageing with a strong focus on the situation of elderly in the current Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, family-work balance and Sunday as a common day of rest are key topics in enhancing the sense of community of our society and improve the way we all take care of the most vulnerable ones, including elderly people.

The Work-life balance directive contains innovative provisions on a carers’ leave. While it is up to the Member States to implement this provision in accordance with the respective systems, we encourage the Commission to ensure that national authorities adopt ambitious national provisions.

Having regard to these challenges, COMECE established an ad-hoc working group together with the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE) to elaborate a reflection paper focused on care for elderly people and to shape the forthcoming discussions by placing the interests and rights of the elderly at the centre.