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Humanities 2013, 2(2), 160-175; doi:10.3390/h2020160

Forced Execution of the Elderly: Old Law, Dystopia, and the Utilitarian Argument

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20006, USA
Received: 27 March 2013 / Revised: 20 April 2013 / Accepted: 23 April 2013 / Published: 29 April 2013
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Abstract

This essay focuses on a play that Thomas Middleton co-authored on the topic of forced execution of the elderly, The Old Law (1618–1619). Here, the Duke of Epire has issued an edict requiring the execution of men when they reach age eighty and women when they reach age sixty—a decree that is justified on the basis that at these ages, they are a burden to themselves and their heirs, as well as useless to society. I argue that Old Law responds to an issue as old as Plato and as recent as twenty-first century dystopic fiction: should a society devote substantial resources to caring for the unproductive elderly? The conflict between Cleanthes and Simonides about the merits of the decree anticipates the debate between proponents of utilitarian economics and advocates of the bioethical philosophy that we today describe as the Ethics of Care.
Keywords: Geronticide; utopia; dystopia; allocation of health care resources; aging Geronticide; utopia; dystopia; allocation of health care resources; aging
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Schotland, S.D. Forced Execution of the Elderly: Old Law, Dystopia, and the Utilitarian Argument. Humanities 2013, 2, 160-175.

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