Japan’s finance minister Taro Aso has been forced to deny his remarks that the elderly should “hurry up and die” to save the government the cost of providing medical care for them.

The outspoken 72-year old, speaking during a meeting on social security issues on the burden of artificially prolonging patients lives, said “tube persons” or patients with serious illnesses should be allowed to die quickly if they wanted to.

“Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. You cannot sleep well when you think it’s all paid by the government,” he said on Monday at the meeting of the National Council on Social Security Reforms.

“This won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die”.

Aso, also the deputy prime minister, retracted some of his remarks and admitted it had been inappropriate to make such comments in public, adding that they were his personal opinion and not government policy, reports South China Morning Post.

“I said what I personally believe, not what the end-of-life medical care system should be,” he said.

“It is important that you can spend the final days of your life peacefully,” Aso told AFP.

Ageing is a sensitive issue in Japan, a country where almost a quarter of its 128 million people are over 60 amid the decreasing number of people in the work force, putting a strain on the country’s social security system, AFP reports.