Observations Life and Death

The double face of discrimination

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c578 (Published 04 February 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c578
  1. Iona Heath, general practitioner, London
  1. aque22{at}dsl.pipex.com

    There are both scientific and moral arguments against the complete abolition of age discrimination

    The government is currently consulting on preparing the NHS and social care services in England for the age requirements in the Equality Bill. The commendable intention of the bill is “to ban age discrimination against adults in the provision of services and exercise of public functions.”

    The use of the word discrimination is tantalising because of its two almost contradictory meanings. The first is deplorable—“the making of distinctions prejudicial to people of a different race or colour from oneself”—and is extended within the Equality Bill to seven characteristics other than race. However, the alternative meaning is admirable—“the faculty of discriminating; the power of observing differences accurately, or of making exact distinctions; discernment”—and the effective practice of medicine is entirely dependent on the skilled exercise of this form of discrimination. These conflicting meanings underline Anatole France’s warning—“Every vice you destroy has a corresponding virtue, which perishes along with it”—and should perhaps give our ever enthusiastic legislators a little pause for thought.

    Age as an attribute of the …

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