Should Age 75 Be Life’s Expiration Date?

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the masterminds behind Obamacare, has now explained that he wishes to die at age 75. In an article entitled “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” in The Atlantic [9-17-14], Emanuel writes, “Seventy-five. That’s how long I want to live: 75 years.” He explains that his daughters disagree; so do his brothers and his friends. But, he says, “I am sure of my position…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.”

So let me get this straight. None of us knows how well we will age. So we should arbitrarily pick the age of 75 as the time to go?

Emanuel’s parents are in their late 80s and still live independently. Nevertheless, he uses his father as an example to support his point: Today he can swim, read the newspaper, needle his kids on the phone, and still live with my mother in their own house. But everything seems sluggish. Although he didn’t die from the heart attack, no one would say he is living a vibrant life. When he discussed it with me, my father said, “I have slowed down tremendously. That is a fact. I no longer make rounds at the hospital or teach.”

Emanuel is making two primary errors here, psychologically speaking. One, he assumes knowledge about his own state of health that he cannot and does not have. He might be dead at 75. Or, he might be perfectly healthy, even more healthy than his father. Facts are missing, and that’s obvious.

The second error is he doesn’t know how he will feel about the totality of those facts at 75, whatever they are. He cannot predict his psychological state at that time. He assumes that he will have had enough, and that his duty to society (which he appears to consider the overriding goal) demands that he call it quits.

People who become parents typically talk about this phenomenon. Even parents with planned pregnancies who do lots of research will usually tell you, “You don’t know what it’s like until you’re in the day-to-day situation of being a parent.” In other words, there’s no way of knowing the whole psychological totality of so vast a lifestyle change, no matter how many facts you put together to give you an idea ahead of time. Rationally projecting the future is certainly a useful and responsible thing to do; but it’s still no guarantee you’ll know precisely how you’ll feel once you’re there. It’s quite likely the same with aging — though not to Emanuel.

Emanuel hastens to add that he will not consider suicide or euthanasia. His article simply repeats his feeling that he draws the line at age 75, that he wants everyone to know this — and he wants you to feel this way, too.

Dr. Emanuel is director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and heads the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. He is an ethicist by profession, and is considered a prominent one. The movers and shakers of the Obama Administration, and the policymakers of our country, listen to people like him. They pass laws and issue directives because they think people like him are intellectually superior and know what they’re talking about.

In reality, Emanuel speaks not for anything new or innovative, but for the oldest, most primitive creed of ethics in human history: Self-sacrifice. His article blares the all-but-stated premise that in ethics, life is not the standard of value. Nor are the needs and concerns of your loved ones or family. That’s too selfish for him, as well. Like all self-conscious advocates of selflessness, he seems proud of his willingness to hurt his family by proclaiming his wish to die. “Hey, look at me. I’m so selfless I don’t even wish to live. It hurts my family, but that shows how willing I am to be sacrificial.”

This is what passes as the standard of sophisticated, high-end, state-of-the-art ethics, at least among the sophisticates and elite whom we have given permission to run our lives.

One of the more revealing comments in his essay is this one: I think the rejection of my view is literally natural. After all, evolution has inculcated in us a drive to live as long as possible. We are programmed to struggle to survive. Consequently, most people feel there is something vaguely wrong with saying 75 and no more. We are eternally optimistic Americans who chafe at limits, especially limits imposed on our own lives. We are sure we are exceptional.

It always seems to come down to this, with these socially progressive control freaks who seek to impose their feelings and perspectives on the rest of us, not only via legislation and executive orders, but through their own definition of moral law. You are not exceptional. And if you’re American, you’re especially not exceptional. This self-hating, anti-American attitude always manages to creep its way into the proclamations of any otherwise self-assured, self-confident progressive.

He tries to turn it into a nationalist kind of issue, as if Americans were neo-Nazis who thought they were superior to the rest of the world for reasons of genetics. Yet there is no American “race,” neither now nor in the past. There only was — and always was — an American way. And the American way — with progress in liberty and human material achievement always to be the standard — is the thing that ethicists like Emanuel cannot tolerate. His whole attitude and essay reeks of the premise, “Who do you think you are … to live a long life and go against what’s natural?”

These are the sort of people we have looked to for ethical expertise, and for controlling the distribution and organization of medical care, particularly for the elderly.

Of course, the American “way” or attitude that people like Emanuel — an architect of Obamacare, remember — so despises has nothing whatsoever to do with nationalism or racial superiority. America, at its best, represents a commitment to life on earth for its own sake. At its peak (which has passed, at least if people like Emanuel remain our policy makers and intellectual leaders), America lifted the standard of living for all, and extended life to a longer point than anyone ever would have dreamed.

Throughout his article, Emanuel repeatedly claims that medicine and research as we know them extend the dying process, rather than prolonging life. This is plainly not true. Medical and technological advancements have improved and extended life tremendously, and he knows this. Yes, the dying process has extended as well, but this is the price of progress. When and if we reach an even higher state of technological advancement, this will resolve itself, as well.

Nevertheless, his response to a prolonged dying process isn’t to change research priorities so much as to accept that enough is enough. Does he want medical research to be privatized, so government won’t play a role in determining the priorities at all? Of course not. He wants government more involved, if anything, and he wants his priorities to carry the day. Does he seek laws liberalizing voluntary euthanasia, on the premise that people have the right to dispose of their lives as they see fit, including if they age unhappily, as with Alzheimer’s or other tragically oppressive illnesses? No; he reportedly opposes legalizing euthanasia. Individual sovereignty does not appear to be his goal, because his more primary concern is with what benefits society, by his own personal moral standards.

When talking about ethics, you presuppose a standard of value. For example, the standard of value might be “human life.” If life is the objective standard, then — ethically speaking — you support anything that holds the promise of objectively advancing, prolonging or extending life. With regard to old age, by that standard, you’re happy that people live longer, and are living longer all the time. You celebrate and champion advances in technology. If you really grasp what creates progress, you support capitalism, science, reason and private ownership of the means of production, because a marketplace driven by consumer wants and needs is far superior to arbitrary and coercive policies imposed by the mentality and personal imagination of men like Ezekiel Emanuel.

Like most people with irrational arguments, Emanuel cancels out his own argument at the end of his essay. It logically and psychologically follows. He has to provide himself cover from his own warped premises. If you stuck with him throughout the whole depraved essay, you’re treated to these final lines. He says, “I retain the right to change my mind and offer a vigorous and reasoned defense of living as long as possible. That, after all, would mean still being creative after 75.”

In other words, he acknowledges what I stated earlier in this article. You can’t know the way you’ll feel about something until you’re there. He realizes that, and he even implies that if his mind is still operational and creative, he’d like to go on living after 75.

Well, bully for you Dr. Emanuel. Now why don’t the rest of us enjoy the same prerogative under your legislated, command-and-control health care priorities?


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