A senior minister in the Japanese government ignited a firestorm of controversy after commenting recently on his country's famously long-lived population.
Minister of Finance Taro Aso said Monday that Japanese elderly were creating a financial problem due to the amount of government funding needed for their medical care, reports Time.
"Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government," Aso, himself 72, said. "The problem won't be solved unless you let them hurry up and die."
Aso, who also serves as the country's deputy prime minister, made the inflammatory remarks Monday, during a meeting of the National Council on Social Security Reforms.
Citizens 60 and older make up more than 25 percent of Japan's population, reports Time. The country's life expectancy is the second-longest in the world, according to figures provided by Reuters. In 2011, Japanese women averaged a lifespan of 85.9 years.
As the population ages, welfare is causing consternation for the country's financial experts, the Guardian notes. Aso's Liberal Democratic party supported a tax plan last year that will double sales tax over the next three years -- a move prompted by rising welfare costs.
The Associated Foreign Press reports that during Monday's meeting, Aso also called patients unable to feed themselves "tube people" and said he had issued his family written instructions to deny him this type of long-term treatment.
A pseudo-apology issued later by Aso clarified that his comments reflected only his personal opinions.
"I said what I personally believe, not what the end-of-life medical care system should be," he said, according to the AFP. "It is important that you can spend the final days of your life peacefully."
This is not the first time the outspoken politician has courted controversy with his remarks, however. In 2008, while serving as Japan's prime minister, Aso again referred to aging Japanese as tax burdens.
"I see people aged 67 or 68 at class reunions who dodder around and are constantly going to the doctor," he said at the time, according to the Guardian. "Why should I have to pay for people who just eat and drink and make no effort? I walk every day and do other things, but I'm paying more in taxes."
Similarly, in 2001, he made headlines for saying a successful country was one where "rich Jews" wanted to live, reports ABC News.