When did Baby Boomers Become Expendable?

Have Seniors Been Written Off?

Rabbi Paul Plotkin
6 min readJul 28, 2020

Politicians can be masters at saying one thing but signaling a lot more to select audiences who are primed to hear the message. This is sometimes referred to as a dog whistle. Lately I have been hearing a message that is quite troubling to me that I am not sure others are hearing. Considering I am not a big animal lover it would be ironic that I would hear a dog whistle that flies right by many others.

When reporting deaths due to Covid there has been from the beginning a message that reported the numbers and then commentators felt the need to insert that many of these were the elderly. This not only gave the younger adults a false sense of invincibility for which they are now paying a big price, but it also sent out a more subtle message. Somehow it was less frightening if it was mostly old people dying. Why is that reassuring to people unless the implication is that old people are not that important?

Sure, we would love to have grandpa around longer, but he has already lived many more years then the rest of us so if someone has to die let it be him.

In New York at the peak of the outbreak doctors were having to do triage because there were not enough ICU beds or ventilators to go around, so those “least likely to live” had less of a chance of accessing the equipment. Who do you think were the bulk of those chosen for no more help?

My wife has for years accused me of having a Peter Pan Complex. To quote the song,” I won’t grow up, I don’t want to go to school…” It pains me to acknowledge that she is probably correct, or rather was probably correct until the outbreak of Covid and the warning that seniors, defined as over 60 were at greater risk simply for being over 60. As the Talmud in an a fortiori argument would sing,” If someone at 60 is old and at risk, how much more so a person at 70 will be in danger.”

Every time I hear an announcement about the Covid danger or the number of deaths, they immediately qualify it as, mostly affecting or mostly dangerous to seniors. I then hear that whistle going off loud and clear. We senior citizens are expendable.

The truth is this is not unprecedented. In researching this article, I learned a new word, senecide. Learning a new word is always good though I wish I had learned it as a child. It would have helped with spelling bees and S.A.T exams.

Senecide is the killing of a senior person. While anathema to us it was certainly a part of many ancient civilizations. Invariably when there are shortages in society everyone needs to contribute to the survival of the group. The old, weakened, and dependent people are sacrificed for the sake of the others who are younger and stronger.

Many of us have heard the tales of the Inuit who in hard times would put old people on ice flows to drift away and die. To be fair, the Inuit believed that another world awaited their dead so they would not be sending the elderly off to die and disappear, but to move on to the afterlife. But if the afterlife was so great why only send the elderly to a reward?

The Scandinavians have Attestupa, a name given to several precipices where in Nordic prehistoric times, elderly people threw themselves to their deaths when they could no longer support themselves.

A Germanic tribe called the Heruli during their migration period ( 400 to 800 CE) placed their sick and elderly on a tall stack of wood and stabbed them to death before setting the pyre alight.

In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu they committed thalaikoothal, their form of senecide.

In Japan, Ubasute, which meant abandoning an old woman was supposedly practiced in their olden days by carrying an elderly relative to a mountain or remote location and leaving them there to die.

Sardinia, Serbia, and ancient Greece also had similar practices.

So, this dog whistle does not come as a surprise. Only its timing is a little earlier than I expected. I believe we have been heading in this direction for some time.

Both my parents had Alzheimer’s and needed to be put into special care facilities. It is not cheap to keep people in such facilities. Estimates are that the US will have 20 million Alzheimer’s patients in the future. To build the facilities and to staff and maintain them will be a tremendous burden on the government. With so many Baby Boomers receiving Medicare and Social Security, the younger generations will have to subsidize through taxes a tremendous amount of money for the “old people”. They will at some point rebel under the strain of working hard and paying so much in taxes and having less for themselves and their children. I can hear the argument now.

We do not have enough for ourselves and our kids why are we spending so much on these old people. The whistle will be put away and the naked truth of their feelings will be expressed.

We were always going in this direction, Covid has only accelerated it.

We seniors live in a world of our own, detached from where the younger generations are living. I assume that many of my fellow seniors still watch the nightly news. I assume that because of the commercials that I see from the sponsors of the news. Every geriatric problem has a new solution and they advertise for it. From the classic, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” to medications for all kinds of diseases that afflict older people more than the young. It is the same on CNN and MSNBC. (I don’t know who advertises on Fox because I am allergic to the channel). Depends, door opening bath tubs, invisible hearing aids, upright walkers, catheters, are just some of the products promoted. Our news sources are segregated. How about music and movies?

Someone please explain hip hop to me. How is Rap considered music? Mic Drop!

The pre-Oscar released movies often have some movies for me, but the rest of the year, save for a big summer blockbuster or two are an invitation to stay home and watch old sitcoms on Netflix.

We can still enjoy sports but at the live events especially football the musical interludes are literally painful. While the good people at home are watching commercials or going to the kitchen for a reasonably priced snack, we at the game are covering our ears lest they explode to the sonic sounds of “Who let the dogs out?”. No wonder my expenditure for season tickets was exchanged for a 60-inch-high def TV.

We are constantly finding ourselves on the outside looking in. No wonder we are marginalized and found expendable. So here is my argument and my defense.

I worked hard for over 40 years. I contributed in many ways to society. I paid my taxes and my social security payments. I kept up my part of the bargain with the government and with society. Now I ask, no I demand, that society keeps its part of the bargain as well, because if I can go from contributor to expendable, be sure that the same future is waiting for you. A multi-generational bargain must be upheld, or you, the next generation have no bargain as well. And one more thing.

We baby boomers may not have as much money to spend as we once did, but we have a currency you will never get until you reach our age. We have seen a lot, we have lived a lot, and as Ecclesiastics said, “There is nothing new under the sun”. We have wisdom that comes from experience, insight that comes from memory, knowledge that comes from having been there before, and we are still available to participate in the future. For starters one of your next presidents will come from us. We are not expendable.

Please share this with friends who are invited to email me at ravpp1@gmail.com to request being added to my list.



Rabbi Paul Plotkin

I am a retired Conservative Rabbi. I was a pulpit Rabbi for 40 years. I supervise a chain of kosher Delis called Ben's .