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Dying at 75

nbarker's picture

Some food for thought! This article has been causing a media firestorm--it's the one we discussed in AD&A on Tuesday. 

"Why I hope to die at 75" Wake up and smell the ableism! >_<


sowk14's picture

Ezekial Emmanuel  is a polemecist from a famous Jewish family of siblings  (his brother was Obama’s  White House Chief of Staff and  is now the mayor of Chicago) who was previously who were raised to debate.  These guys cut their political teeth on each other when they were still in diapers.   They know how to pick an edge of a controversial topic and exploit it. 

In this case, Emmanuel obviously sophisticated about drawing media and public attention his position as head of the Clinical Bioethics at Penn and at the National Institute for Health.   I would guess that his primary purpose in writing this article is to stir up the American conversation about aging and autonomy, and help to set the stage in popular culture for a shift of focus away from “life-sustaining interventions” toward more acceptance of death with comfort and awareness – a tough sell for Americans who are accustomed to last minute saves in their emergency room of choice.

Emmanuel is also giving a boost to the nascent right-to-die movement which is gathering steam in this country, without openly stating the case.  Three states have Death with Dignity Laws – Oregon, Washington, Vermont and several more have introduced legislation (including Pennsylvania) .  As myself and the millions of other boomers shift out of middle age, more states will undoubtedly fall in line behind these four.

Ezekial is defining human capacity in terms of productivity and contribution.  That’s where he is now.  But in ‘older old’ age, shifting attention inward is the natural course of development.  For a self admitted super active guy like Emmanuel ,“functional limitation” might be a terrifying thought.  At this age,  he is not inclined to consider the value of a spiritual journey that would outweigh any functional limitation that he might experience or suffer through.   I think it’s this spiritual capacity of human life that Emmanuel needs to honor more.  This is the aspect of life that allows people to actually accept death rather than fight it.  Perhaps Emmanuel is allowing his fear, rather than his faith, to govern the debate.


sowk13's picture

Emanuel focuses his arguments regarding reasons for dying at 75 around being able bodied and having the mind of a young person. His arguments fail to consider the lived experiences of againg individuals. Although activities and interactions with others do change as we age, writing off these changes as inherently deterimental to the lived experienced and how others experience the elderly is problematic. Emanuel's focus on ingenuity, creativity, and the ability to thrive professionally is interesting. From my perspective, as individuals age and live longer they can focus less on work and more time on interpersonal relationships. He dismisses this, however, stating that interpersonal relationships are primarily burdensome as people age. While there may be some truth to this, interpersonal relationships are valuable. It is important to put out within this discussion that people are having children later in life. He does not discuss this in his article and I think that his arguments ignore this and other societal factors that are important to address when discussing aging. The policy implications that he discusses are important such as the need for more research on Alzheimer's and growing disabilities of old age. The reality is that people are living longer, while this may mean that aging is being elongated it does not necessarily mean that aging is a detrimental and negative experience. 


Helen Turkel