During a panel discussion on social security reform in Japan on Monday, Prime Minister Taro Aso, known for his outspoken rhetoric, told reporters the country's elderly should be allowed to "hurry up and die," referring to those who could not feed themselves as "tube people."
"Even if (doctors) said they could keep me alive, it would be unbearable," Aso, who is 72, was quoted by ABC News. "I would feel guilty, knowing that (treatment) was being paid for by the government,”
The prime minister later defended his comments, which he says were misinterpreted, claiming that he was speaking in regards to his own personal wishes and not referring to the island nation's senior population.
Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world, with just over 23 percent above 65 years of age, nearly half of which are over 75. Over the next 50 years, the nation's elderly population is expected to spike to an estimated 40 percent, worrying many Japanese lawmakers that existing social security and pension benefits will place severe strains on the country's financial system.
Fearing the inevitable burden caused by the nation's aging population, Japanese lawmakers passed an unpopular tax hike last summer amounting to a doubling of the sales tax to 10 percent over the next three years.
According to the United Nations, Japan consistently has one of the highest life expectancies, with men on average living 80 years and women living 87 years. Currently, a Japanese man named Jiroemon Kimura, holds the title for world's oldest person at 115 years of age.
This isn't the first time Aso has made verbal blunders.
Prior to becoming prime minister in 2008, Aso had referred to his political opposition as Nazis, while saying that his goal was make Japan the kind of country where "the richest Jews would want to live."
Also in 2008 shortly after becoming prime minister, Aso described the elderly as a "feeble" group.
Aso later appeared on national television and apologized for his comments.
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