Are we putting our seniors out to die on ice floes or is the nursing home scheme worse?

I don’t know about you, but it was some sort of dark comedy in our family that when they got older we were not to put mom and dad on an ice floe to prevent them being a burden!  Once in a while we would hear that, I guess when we were not helping enough around the house.  But the other day I was talking to one of my probate victims and she said she had never heard of how Eskimoes (and I know this is some wide paint brush of 100 northern native American and Canadians tribes, so don’t write me on that–got it) would from time to time put grandma or grandpa out on an ice floe. This is called senicide.  Invalidicide is where the disabled are left to die or taken out on ice floes.  Infantacide I guess is where you just have too many babies, and I won’t get into that one because it was often a mixture of herbs and spices to induce premature births, abortions, early induced deliveries, the place where the local socially charmed ladies worked (every town had them, so please don’t act shocked, every archeologist knows about it), etc.  That’s enough for volumes and volumes.  And of course, my mom having a love for archeology, knew well about the practice, reading thousands of books on world cultures.

But getting back to senicide and invalidicide, aren’t we doing that to some extent by knowingly obtaining guardianships and then tossing these people into nursing homes for their money or government money, knowing they are understaffed, knowing the food and medical care is horrid, knowing that separates themselves from the love and comfort of their families–isn’t this just a strange form of the senicide ice floe game?  We also know that the average elder tossed in a nursing home lives 3 more years while the average person at that age kept at home lives 7 years or more!

So why don’t we have mechanisms in place to stop all this nonsense, evil and greed?  How do we justify it?

Read below for more information based upon or inspired by an article from the Straight Dope

Did Eskimos put their elderly on ice floes to die?

This is based upon or inspired by an article done by Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope
May 4, 2004

Urban Legend: Eskimos put elders out on ice floes to die.

According to the straight dope, some Eskimos did either intentional or by forces of nature,  when times were difficult, put their infirm elders on ice floes to die.  He theorized that pressure from missionaries and national authorities brought a firm end to the practice.  Last reported case was in 1939, but the practice appeared to be very rare.

The term for killing old people is “senicide” and it was never universal.    Many people found the practice repugnant even among the Eskimos.  Since Eskimos hunted, and there was an abundance of wildlife, periods of famine were rare.  But when food did run short, infirm elders were killed in a variety of ways, thrown into the sea, buried alive, locked out in the cold or starved.  Sometimes the whole village would pick up and leave without the victim.  At other times they were taken out into the wilderness and left there.  If the village was returned to prosperity, he might be rescued–or not.  An abandoned person was always welcomed that made it back on their own, but that rarely happened.

Many times the senicide was more like assisted suicide because the elder felt a burden and offered to become abandoned.  It was theorized that a better lifetime awaited someone who was led to death rather than caused it himself, hence the need for someone to lead or push them onto an ice floe or abandon them out in the wilderness. Assisted suicide was more common.  By pain, fear, grief, infirmity, it was not uncommon for an elder or infirm to ask to be put to death, and the person(s) asked felt an obligation to assist, even if they did not want to do so.

So the ice floe legend may not be completely accurate, but it’s still not far afield.
It may have come from the movie The Savage Innocents (1959) starring Anthony Quinn or the novel it was based on, Top of the World (1950) by Hans Ruesch.  Cecil said he just read the book and found two scenes of interest. In one, the mother-in-law Powtee is put out on the solid sea ice to die, only to be rescued soon after. In the other, the wife Asiak walks across the sea ice to drown herself in the open water. At the edge, a piece of ice breaks free under her weight and she floats along on this small ice floe briefly before drowning herself.

Also practiced was invalidicide (the killing of sick or disabled people). The sick received care as long as there was any hope of recovery. When hope faded, care ceased and they were left to die.

In good times, a healthy elder was almost never killed or abandoned merely for being a burden. In the few recorded cases where younger family members did kill their elders without cause, the would suffer the worst possible punishment available which was shunning, much akin to what the Amish and Mennonite cultures practice even today.  Of course, shunning in northern Alaska/Canada could mean you were cut off from the village too, which might guarantee death without tools or shelter to live, or it might shorten your life span markedly.

I suppose many of us have kids that from time to time threaten us with picking out a nursing home and how that is better than the ice floe.  But a good comeback is that even the Eskimos will never put out an elder that is providing money, food and housing.

Further reading:

“Senilicide and Invalidicide among the Eskimos” by Rolf Kjellström in Folk: Dansk etnografisk tidsskrift, volume 16/17 (1974/75)

“Notes on Eskimo Patterns of Suicide” by Alexander H. Leighton and Charles C. Hughes in Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, volume 11 (1955)

Eskimos and Explorers, 2d ed., by Wendell H. Oswalt (1999)

— bibliophage

also, from widkipedia


Societal views and legal repercussions have varied greatly in regards to senicide.

Focusing on “old people”, van Hoof in 1990 writes that, of the 960 cases he explores, 87 address the motives of old people to commit suicide.[1] Of these suicides, twenty were motivated by impatience, seventeen by humiliation, twelve by vanity, and ten by suffering. Van Hoof also provides statistics for the manner of the suicide, both successful and unsuccessful. Starvation was the most widely used, accounting for eighteen of the sixty-one cases available. Suicide via the use of weapons was second most prevalent making up thirteen cases, followed by the use of poison in eleven cases.[2] The use of various methods (seven different methods are reported in all) suggests that no particular technique was believed to be the most proper or entirely condemned. However, that Athens had a law focusing on suicide by hanging indicates that this manner of suicide was especially disdained, perhaps because the death was intimately connected with a structure that could not be easily removed, such as a tree. Thus, the act of purification, should it be deemed necessary, would be more difficult to perform.

Ancient Greece & Rome

Senicide as an institutionalized practice, however, seems to be much less common in ancient Rome and Greece. Parkin provides eighteen cases of senicide which the people of antiquity believed to happen.[3] Of these cases, only two of them occur within Greek society, one within Roman society, and the rest falling outside of these two cultures. One example that Parkin provides is of the island of Keos in the Aegean Sea. Although many different variations of the Keian story exist, the legendary practice may have begun when the Athenians besieged the island. In an attempt to preserve the food supply, the Keians voted for all people over sixty years of age to commit suicide by drinking hemlock.[4] The other case of Greek senicide occurred on the island of Sardinia, where human sacrifices of fathers seventy years old were made by their sons to the god Cronus.

The case of institutionalized senicide occurring in Rome comes from a proverb stating that sixty year olds were to be thrown from the bridge. Whether or not this act occurred in reality was highly disputed in antiquity and continues to be doubted today. The most comprehensive explanation of the tradition comes from Festus writing in the fourth century AD who provides several different beliefs of the origin of the act, including human sacrifice by ancient Roman natives, a Herculean association, and the notion that older men should not vote because they no longer provided a duty to the state.[5] This idea to throw older men into the river probably coincides with the last explanation given by Festus. That is, younger men did not want the older generations to overshadow their wishes and ambitions and, therefore, suggested that the old men should be thrown off the bridge, where voting took place, and not be allowed to vote.

Religious views of senicide

The societies of antiquity viewed suicide and euthanasia much differently than does modern culture. Although factors such as better medical and psychological insight have affected contemporary society’s view of suicide and euthanasia, much of the shift in opinion of these forms of death occurred because of the change in religion — that is, Greco-Roman society was dominated by pagan religions that did not categorically condemn suicide and euthanasia.

Modern Christianity does not support the practice of suicide or senicide, holding that only God has control over a person’s life and death.[6]

Philosophical views on senicide

Ancient philosophical thoughts varied greatly in this respect. Plato bifurcates suicide in Laws: although killing oneself out of grief, misfortune, or state injunction is acceptable, to commit suicide “owing to sloth and unmanly cowardice” requires purification rituals and demands that the body be buried without an epitaph.[7]

Aristotle viewed suicide as an unjust act: “when a man in violation of the law harms another (otherwise than in retaliation) voluntarily, he acts unjustly.”[8] Thus, for a man to harm himself, Aristotle reasons, is an unjust act.

Pythagorean doctrine held that all creatures were being punished by the gods who imprisoned the creatures’ souls in a body. Thus, any attempt to alter this punishment would be seen as a direct violation of the gods’ wills.[9] In the fourth century BC, the Hippocratic Oath was developed and reads, “I will not give a fatal draught to anyone if I am asked, nor will I suggest any such thing.”[10] Through the lens of the Hippocratic Oath, euthanasia was strictly forbidden. However, one of the most famous examples of deviation from this code occurred when the physician of Seneca, a philosopher and tutor of Nero, provided the scholar, who was sixty-nine at the time, with poison for one of his many failed attempts at suicide.

Senicide by culture


The Heruli were a Germanic tribe during the Migration Period (about 400 to 800 CE). Procopius states in his work The Wars, that the Heruli placed the sick and elderly on a tall stack of wood and stabbed them to death before setting the pyre alight.


Senicide is currently practiced in Tamil Nadu, a state of India. The traditional practice of senicide by the family members is called Thalaikoothal. In this custom, the elderly person is given an extensive oil-bath early in the morning and subsequently made to drink glasses of tender coconut water which results in renal failure, high fever, fits, and death within a day or two. [11][12] In 2010, after an expose in Virudhunagar district, the administration set up teams of officers to monitor the senior citizens.[13]


A common belief is that the Inuit would leave their elderly on the ice to die.[14] Senicide among the Inuit people was rare, except during famines. The last known case of an Inuit senicide was in 1939.[15][16][17]


Ubasute (姥捨, abandoning an old woman), a custom allegedly performed in Japan in the distant past, whereby an infirm or elderly relative was carried to a mountain, or some other remote, desolate place, and left there to die. This custom has been vividly depicted in the The Ballad of Narayama (a 1956 novel by Shichirō Fukazawa, a 1958 film, and a 1983 film).


Main article: Lapot

See also

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