The Lack of Containment Measures: Does It Constitute Senicide?

Senicide is a term not oft used but it is making a resurgence in this time of pandemic.

Senicide is a term not oft used but it is making a resurgence in this time of pandemic.

[This article authored by David A. Swanson with assistance from NWCitizen writer Dick Conoboy]

Senicide, or geronticide, is the killing of the elderly, or their abandonment to death. Because the U.S. was not prepared to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and lacked anything close to a national strategy, states and counties turned to containment measures as a final resort for dealing with it. Had there been comprehensive and accurate testing along with personal protection and other types of equipment for healthcare personnel, and good surveillance and tracking it is unlikely that the most extreme of the containment orders would have been enacted and those who are now without the means to support themselves would not have been forced from jobs. It is also the case that we not now being faced with the other dilemma forced on us by the lack of federal support and the failure of its leadership: Keep the containment measures in effect and condemn those not working to continued economic misery or discard them, which may be, defacto, a policy of senicide.

Although at this point, this hypothesis is in its early stages, there are some limited facts that support this view. Webwallet ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of how aggressively they pursued containment measures as of March 24th. In this ranking, New York was first and Oklahoma was last with Washington coming in at ninth. Because of variations in the groupings across states that report deaths for the oldest age group (e.g., some states provide 60+ others 65+, and still others 80+), it limits direct comparisons.

However, we can compare Oklahoma and Washington. For Oklahoma, 81% of its COVID-19 deaths are to those aged 65 years and over. Washington does not report deaths for “65+ but with some standard demographic finagling (called the Karup-King Method), I was able to convert its age group reports into one that matched Oklahoma’s. It resulted in finding that 74% of its deaths were to those 65 years and over. Importantly, the percent of the population 65 years and over in both states is very close. For Washington it is 15.4% and for Oklahoma, it is 15.7%.

So, to summarize, this very incomplete evidence suggests that removing containment measures may, in fact, amount to a defacto policy of senicide. If so, it is likely also to involve defacto genocide in terms of the poor, African-Americans, Latinos, Native-Americans, such as the Hopi and Navajo and those with compromised health, not to mention workers at meat plants, and prison populations, which tend to the “elderly” end of the age spectrum.

Of course, there will be “counterfactuals,” states with high proportions of deaths to those 60 and over that were ranked on the aggressive end of the containment policies, and vice-versa. These will need to be resolved by examining more details – population densities, number of nursing home outbreaks and the like. However, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that this issue deserves further examination.

In what is the clearest support for the senicide hypothesis, we can compare Sweden and Finland. Sweden opted for a “no-containment policy” in search of the mythical “herd immunity” and 95% of all COVID-19 deaths (2,853) in Sweden are to those aged 60 years and over and 96% of all COVID-19 cases (11,857) are to those aged 60 years and over. Contrast this with Finland, which instituted rigorous containment measures: Only 23 percent of its cases (5,412) are to those aged 60 and over. Finland does not report COVID-19 deaths by age, but it has a total of 246 COVID-19 deaths (/). It is likely that Finns would experience approximately the same ratio of percent deaths to percent cases as Sweden, which leads to the estimate that 22 percent (54) of all COVID-19 deaths in Finland are to those aged 60 years and over.

Importantly, the age structures in Sweden and Finland are very similar, which means that the differences in case counts and deaths are not due to age differences. In 2018, 20
percent of the population of Sweden was aged 65+. In Finland, it was 22 %. So, here we have two countries with similar socio-economic and demographic characteristics as well as societal institutions, but one that opted for the “herd immunity” approach the while the other chose to impose strict containment measures: In the former, 95% of all COVID-19 deaths are to those aged 60 and over and in the other, only 22 percent.

In the Viking era, getting rid of the elderly was known as “Ättestupa,” which translates literally as “over the cliff.” We all hope that as Sweden reverts to its Viking heritage, it will not be sending youthful raiding parties to Scotland, England, and Ireland to loot and pillage among the survivors of this pandemic. If it does, I advise Sweden to avoid sending youthful raiding parties to Finland, where they are not likely to succeed because they will be facing an unfamiliar adversary: Well-trained regiments of experienced, tough, crusty elders, fully prepared to defend themselves and “kotimaa” to the death with, among other weapons they know how to use, the traditional “puukko.”

As you have likely guessed, this is simply a metaphor for the possibility that once Sweden has shed much of the burden of taking care of its elderly, it will attempt to take advantage of nearby economies weakened by containment measures by seeking to purchase businesses at bargain prices and eliminate others using the Wal-Mart approach. If they do, the “youthful Swedish raiding parties” will face a tough opponent in those experienced, old, crusty Finns who have been through more bad times than the Swedes could ever imagine and somehow held themselves and their country together. In Finland, this kind of character is known as “sisu”.

Those of us who have the wherewithal (able to work from home, are retired, living off a trust fund or super wealthy) are probably thinking we can “wait it out” for the vaccine. However, like everything else, especially in this poorly prepared county, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding when such a vaccine might be available... if at all.

Of course, you are thinking to yourself, it will never come to this. Sweden’s policy of defacto senicide could never happen here, not in the birthplace of the eugenics movement, an ideology based on a gross misinterpretation of Darwin that was aimed at “cleansing the unfit” from society. It made the jump across the Atlantic and into the mind of guess who? Adolf Hitler. We know how that worked out.

About David A. Swanson

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2020

David A. Swanson is Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of California Riverside. He served as a member of the U. S. Census Bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee [...]

Comments by Readers

Bernie Housen

May 07, 2020

If you go to the data tables on the WA DOH site you linked to, you will find a breakdown of both cases and deaths by age. For Washington, 90% of deaths are of folks older than 60, with a significant proportion being in those older than 80. The Seattle Times has a good daily summary on their covid update section.


David A. Swanson

May 07, 2020

Thanks. there are reporting differernces acrosss states, etc. which is why I use the Johns Hopkins University site for data whenever possible. 


Ralph Schwartz

Jun 01, 2020

Interested to see that you would mention prison population as a demographic that skews elderly but not nursing homes. The Washington Post reported today (June 1) that more than 26,000 US deaths, about one fourth the total, happened inside nursing homes. Incidentally, the prison population is not older than the US population overall. Median age in prisons is about 39, compared to a median age of 38 nationwide. Even the “39” result for prisons is misleading when compared with the US population generally, because prisons have virtually no one under 18. Fair to say the prison population is somewhat younger than the US adult population generally.

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