Ezekiel J. Emanuel has written the truly provocative “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” His thesis, to chop the article down to an elevator speech, is that he’s rather certain that when he reaches that age he will no longer be a creative, contributing member of society, but only a consumer of health care services.
… over the past 50 years, health care hasn’t slowed the aging process so much as it has slowed the dying process.
And for Emanuel, what seems ethical for him to do at that point is to refuse major treatments and let nature take its short, brutal course.
I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop.
I find a certain affinity with Emanuel. Like him, I fear the loss of faculties; for me, to be bed-ridden and watching endless daytime TV would be miserable. I think we differ on the milestone. Eighty sounds like a nice round number, but let me get back to you as that time post looms.
On the other hand, consider what Fred Jones (88 years old) has to say. He’s one of a half dozen elderly New Yorkers that John Leland has been talking to. Jones is one of the unlucky folks who has too much income to qualify for government subsidies, but not quite enough to afford services that would make his life more comfortable. He’s sort of trapped in a rent-controlled $300-a-month Crown Heights walkup; if he were to move, he’d be priced out of the market. Nevertheless,
Mr. Jones was not dismayed. He never is. “Oh no, I don’t have any money worries, thank God,” he said. “I have none. My only money worries are, keep the ladies away from it.”
* * *
I asked him when in his life he was happiest.
“Right now,” he said without hesitation. “I have health problems, but it’s been going on a long time, so it’s secondary. But I think happiness really is what’s going on at a particular time. I used to think happiness was something that somebody brought to you. But happiness, as opposed to enjoyment, is when you are doing something and you are elated.”