Ezekiel Emanuel wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly, Why I hope to die at 75. He asks the question, “Are we to embrace the “American immortal” or my “75 and no more” view?” He plans no life sustaining medical procedures or tests after the age of 75. Ezekiel is not trying to die, but won’t prolong his life in any event of illness.
I suggest people read Emanuel’s article and decide for themselves how they feel about elder research for longevity. We should be having big conversations about what we truly want for our country.
Mortality seems to be a topic people do not want to discuss, because we obviously face unknown territory. I was forced to think about dying at age sixteen, when my father committed suicide. I earnestly contemplated what mortality meant for us, and tried to understand death because I was afraid of it, since my father’s suicide had been such an unnatural shock.
In college, my first serious research paper was titled, Why people are afraid to die and their need for immortality. I read nonfiction books and articles concerning the topic, philosophical, religious, scientific. My thesis concluded: People are afraid to die because of fear of the unknown, and we create plausible stories of what will happen in order to cope with the fear. I have not found other research to dispute my thesis.
Emanuel’s article about choosing to die rather than live in a compromised way radically goes against American core fears, drives us crazy. Forboding choices lead to a common inevitable outcome. At some time we may get so old we lose control, and frequently become burdensome to our children. He used his father, as an example of a robust doctor who became diminished after a stroke, and seemed to loose his spirit. Emanuel does not want that to happen to him.
He suggests Americans seriously focus on why we direct tremendous resources to extend lives that are so frequently compromised. The quality of our later years frequently seems less than enthusiastic for us and our relations, and cost tons of money. We could redirect resources.
So many of our younger Americans are inadequately fed, housed and educated. Why not consider shifting our focus, to make our nation’s children more healthy? The next generation deserves a chance to fly, and our generation may be holding them back because we want to live another five years. Is it really worth the money to live five more years? For what? Are we going to get well? I think not.
The term ‘American immortal’ sounds selfish to me, trying to act like God, as if we have superpowers to control death’s supreme reality. Americans do have choices to keep our bodies fit and remain creative, but we must face it, our peak years of accomplishment are generally behind us after the age of 75.
I agree with Emanuel, I don’t want to live with major illness when I’m 75. I’m independent and healthy, and I’ve got fifteen years until I turn 75. My family knows I want no extraordinary measures to keep me going when my time comes. I only want palliative measures for my care at the end. My husband jokes, if I get the hiccups, do not resuscitate. I mean it. Let me go.
My mother died at 77, and she was ready to go. I was not ready for her decision, but she didn’t want to be here anymore. Mom was not afraid to die. Her courage gave me courage to not fear death. I have mixed memories of Mom’s vibrancy and of her later illnesses. If she had lived, guaranteed she would have had more illnesses. She didn’t want to become a doctor’s project ever again.
Emanuel speaks the deepest truth we have, to question and determine our value on this planet. It isn’t about money, but it’s about our substance, character and the legacy we leave for our children. Let’s not compromise their lives or make them weak, and use up all the resources.