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Ableism and ageism in Emanuel's essay

abby rose's picture

"Why I Hope to Die at 75" clearly describes some of the challenges faced by aging adults in the United States that were mentioned in the Silverstone article. Emanuel describes the body's tendency towards disease and deterioration as people grow older. Emanuel describes how mental processing and physical recovery occur at slower rates as people age which the Silverstone article addresses as an important factor to consider when working with older adults. Additionally, both Emanuel and Silverstone touch upon the concepts of loss and control in later life. Emanuel claims that living too long is a loss, and Silverstone echoes this sentiment as she encourages social workers to be cognizant of the numerous losses experiences in old age. An interesting bridge between the two articles is via the topic of control. Emanuel wishes to exercise control in his later years by denying curative/preventative medical practices that would extend his life. Silverstone highlights the need for older adults to establish a sense of control in their lives amidst significant loss and/or hardships and that denial of medical care gives a false sense of control to the elderly. Silverstone adivses social workers to persuade their older clients to accept medical treatment as it can extend life expectancy. (It would be interesting to introduce Silverstone and Emanuel to each other, and see how they would discuss near-end-of-life options with adults who do not wish to live past 75.)

Throughout reading "Why I Hope to Die at 75," I encountered many ableist and ageist ideologies that portrayed disability as a major loss. While living with disabilities is a different and potentially more difficult life path, disability does not render one's life as less valuable in any way. I wonder, what would the author say to those who are much younger than 75 and living with significant disabilities? I would also like to mention the story of the author's father, who has slowed down since his heart attack. His father says he is happy, but Emanuel says that his father is not living a vibrant life. But what constitutes a vibrant life? Why would a slower pace of life be worth any less than the normative life pace that the author is so clearly accustomed to? (see:"I just climbed Kilimanjaro with two of my nephews.")

Emanuel has no major illnesses that would impair his functioning, so he writes this article from a place of nondisabled privilege. His friends said in the beginning of the article, they think he will change his mind as he ages closer and closer to 75. So similarly, what about when Emanuel first encounters disability in his life? Will he be so dimissive of disabled life experiences then? 

Social constructs of age/ability are further visible throughout this article as the author equates lack of productivity with lack of life value. So much worth is placed on the young adult/middle aged life that has its "normal" functioning and productivity. But people who already have limited mental/physical activity are equally worthy of taking up space, being loved and loving others, and able to contribute to other's lives.  "Why I Hope to Die at 75" assumes that one finds their "prime" in a normative life: "We wish our children to remember us in our prime. Active, vigorous, engaged, animated, astute, enthusiastic, funny, warm, loving. Not stooped and sluggish, forgetful and repetitive, constantly asking 'What did she say?' We want to be remembered as independent, not experienced as burdens." However I argue that those who are stooped and sluggish, forgetful and repetitive, are not inherently burdens because they function on a different level than Ezekiel J. Emanuel. 

Near the end of the article, the author says that he is not trying to convince anyone to agree with him or even assert that he is right, nor that he hates the elderly. However, he uses language in the article the speaks for greater society, like "we" and "our". Although this article is only one man's perspective, he writes it as though he is the spokesperson for society. Additionally, as a financially stable white male, Emanuel is able to speak for greater society since it is his perspective which embodies and defines the norm in the USA. His narrative assumes the uninterreputed American dream life path, which is ironic since he claims to reject the continuation of the American dream which is the American immortal. Moreover, I have a difficult time of accepting this as the description of the article is: "An argument that society and families—and you—will be better off if nature takes its course swiftly and promptly."