Why I Hope to Die at 75.

January 16, 2022

Why I Hope to Die at 75.

May 29, 2023

I remember when I first read this article in "The Atlantic" seven years ago. I was shocked by it as both of my parents were older than 75, and I didn’t want them leaving their bodily form anytime soon.

But, Ezekiel Emanuel’s essay is worth reading even if you vehemently disagree with him. Here’s his position, in his own words:

“Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value. But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.”

Emanuel is a bioethicist and oncologist, and he’s now 64 years old. I’m sure his family, friends, co-workers, and "Harold and Maude" lovers will be keeping an eye on him as he counts down his last eleven years (although he doesn’t say he’ll kill himself at 75, just that he won’t have the will to live any longer).

As for me, I take issue with a lot of things in his argument. He’s too focused on the natural decay of the body without valuing how our soul deepens with age, and we’re introduced to all kinds of new mysteries and maybe a spiritual awakening. He’s not considered how many of us feel a sense of awe in the world as our schedules become less congested. He’s not studied the evolutionary value of grandmothers. He’s focused more on egghead societal ethics than his family’s genuine desires.

Yes, he makes some good points, including our hope for a "compression of morbidity" that suggests we’ll run marathons until we’re 90 and then die at 91 with no aches, pains, or trouble to our families. 90 is the new 40, right? He doesn’t want to spend his last few years doing organ recitals, as in kvetching with similarly aged folks about which body parts aren’t working like they used to. And he notes that health care hasn’t really slowed the aging process. It has just slowed the dying process.

But the one body part he’s completely ignoring is the heart. I feel my parents’ loving hearts more in their mid-eighties than I did in their mid-seventies or mid-sixties, partly due to their own vulnerabilities. Life is like a great BBQ: it’s all about tenderizing the heart. And that can take decades.

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