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Emanuel Response

smalina's picture

Like Peter, I found Emanuel's piece to be incredibly frustrating and offensive. The basis of his argument rests on the assumption that the age of 75 itself marks a point in every individual's life that is comparable--a view that is clearly a result of his own privileges as a white, apparently middle or upper-middle class straight man. One of the first points Emanuel brings up is the idea that, by the age of 75, he will already have experienced the richest experiences life has to offer. Perhaps, if his goals are as grandious and tangible as climing Mount Kilimanjaro, this is the case for him--but it is certainly not the case for many people in the same class and race categories as himself, let alone those who would never have access to such opportunities. There is an unbounded diversity in human experience, and for some people, especially those constricted by their placement in minority or oppressed groups, the richest experiences can be interpersonal, and life can simply be about living--not doing, as Emanuel clearly has the privilege to do. Emanuel's focus on the number 75 also assumes an incredibly normative life pace, that leaves little room for the queer and crip time experienced by so many.

Furthermore, When Emanuel insists that the experience of mental and physical deterioration cannot be anything worthwhile, he makes the ableist assertion that for individuals who live in such physical and mental states all their lives, no part of life could be worthwhile. Emanuel is evidently a man with a great deal of independence, who does not seem to have experience in interdependence--thus, the thought of any loss of autonomy is horrifying to him. Rather than writing off the experiences of the "feeble," as he puts it, Emanuel should instead ask himself what could be gained by the experience of different levels/kinds of ability--or by the experience of being a caregiver, for that matter? Though he insists that he does not want to "burden" his family, so many caregiving experiences can be incredibly rich (to the point where some even feel it is their life's calling). To reduce these experiences to so little that they seem entirely worthless events that must be avoided, is a complete erasure of the positive growth many people experience from them. 

Emanuel makes the assertion that it was painful to watch his father deteriorate because, after a health incident, he was no longer "the same person." This raises important questions about what makes up the self, and how the self progresses, regresses, and changes over a life course. Emanuel appears to make the claim that a "healthy" person is only one self at any given time, and that once they have changed, their life is no longer worth living. What, then, of developing children whose senses of self change drastically day to day? With Emanuel's reasoning, one could easily choose to shut babies in a box with a teacher and bring them out only when they have a defined, consistent sense of self--clearly, such a thought is ridiculous, torturous, and selfish. Why apply this same theory to older people, rather than allow their senses of self to shift as well (even if it's traumatizing for those around them)?

To wrap up his point, Emanuel reasserts the idea that an individual's sole purpose is to fall in love, reproduce, and raise his or her children in the same pattern. This, of course, is an incredibly heteronormative concept, one that leaves out so many people of all sexualities who cannot or choose not to reproduce. Emanuel stands with the majority of society that puts an entire life's worth into the notion of reproductive futurity--the idea that the self is only worthwhile if it uses its time on earth to reproduce and maintain a constant life cycle. Simply put, this does not work for large numbers of people.

To make the assumption that life is no longer worth living after age 75 is to perpetuate so many of the issues that we have read about for this class. If Emanuel cannot treat a post-75 life as a real one, then he surely would have no qualms with infantilizing language and communication, and would clearly place little weight in elder care. Emanuel strikes me as the kind of person to believe in shutting the elderly up in institutions, rather than valuing their humanity by incorporating them into a community as much as possible.