Sweden discriminates against elderly with COVID-19; 'active euthanasia,' critics say

Sweden's flag is seen near the Stockholm Cathedral in Gamla Stan or the Old Town district of Stockholm, Sweden, June 9, 2010.
Sweden's flag is seen near the Stockholm Cathedral in Gamla Stan or the Old Town district of Stockholm, Sweden, June 9, 2010. | Reuters/Bob Strong

Controversy is brewing in Sweden amid reports that elderly patients infected with the coronavirus were not only denied crucial medical care but pushed into premature death in the nation's nursing homes.

According to Bioedge, health authorities in the Scandinavian nation have received many complaints about how their elderly relatives were treated while in such homes. Those suspected to have COVID-19 were quickly placed on palliative care, given morphine, and denied supplementary oxygen and intravenous fluids and nutrition.

For many residents, this was essentially a death sentence. Approximately half of all coronavirus deaths in the Scandinavian country were residents of nursing homes, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

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“People suffocated, it was horrible to watch. One patient asked me what I was giving him when I gave him the morphine injection, and I lied to him,” said Latifa Löfvenberg, a nurse.

“Many died before their time. It was very, very difficult.”

According to official guidelines in Sweden issued by the National Board of Health and Welfare when the pandemic began, it was suggested that doctors triage patients based on their so-called biological age, considering their overall health and the prospects for recovery prior to making treatment decisions.

Sweden's response to the virus differed from many other nations in that the nation declined to shut down their economy and allowed citizens to continue living their lives relatively normally with some moderate precautionary measures; most bars, restaurants, schools, and retail stores were permitted to stay open. Swedish officials said earlier this year their goal was to reach "herd immunity."

Regarding its medical facilities, the Scandinavian country's approach was to keep hospital intensive-care units from being overwhelmed with elderly patients who had a low chance of surviving and thus keep them open for younger people should a surge in the virus occur. Such a surge did not happen and the elderly were denied access to unused facilities.

“These guidelines have too often resulted in older patients being denied treatment, even when hospitals were operating below capacity,” critics of the approach told the WSJ.

Some critics went even further, asserting the approach amounted to euthanasia.

“Older people are routinely being given morphine and midazolam, which are respiratory-inhibiting,” Yngve Gustafsson, a geriatrics specialist at Umea University, told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

That doctors were prescribing over the phone a “palliative cocktail” for the sick elderly left him aghast.

“It’s active euthanasia, to say the least,” he said.

Echoing Gustafsson, the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism Wesley J. Smith noted in National Review last week that the Swedish policy is "what happens when there is an explicitly invidious health-care rationing policy."

"The nuances get lost and the discriminated-against population are deemed better off dead."

In the United States, more than 43 percent of COVID-19 deaths have come from nursing homes and other long-term care facilities though residents and workers there have made up only 11 percent of all U.S. cases, according to The New York Times

Still, stories have emerged of very elderly people contracting the virus and then recovering from it.

100-year-old World War II veteran Lloyd Falk of Virginia survived the coronavirus earlier this year following a 58-day stay in the hospital. Falk lost his wife of 74 years to the disease a few weeks prior to his recovery, according to local NBC affiliate WXII12.

Similarly, 102-year-old Sophie Avouris survived a coronavirus infection in a Manhattan rehabilitation center, NPR reported in May. She had been in a nursing home recovering from hip replacement surgery when she fell ill. She was a newborn baby in Greece when the 1918 influenza spread across Europe.

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