Modern medicine enables people to live longer and longer lives. But is living into your 80s and 90s even a desirable prospect? Ezekiel J. Emanuel doesn’t think so. In a thought-provoking and provocative essay, he explains why he doesn’t want to live past age 75. While his essay may evoke moral objections among some readers, Emanuel is raising important issues related to longevity and medical practice that many won’t dare to raise publicly. Ultimately, Emanuel’s essay is not about dying. It’s about leading life to the fullest while you are in your prime.
Although Americans’ lifespan has increased over the past 50 years, their health span hasn’t.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, a series of medical breakthroughs preventing premature deaths, including antibiotics and vaccines, has gradually increased Americans’ life expectancy. Since the 1960s, modern medicine has gotten better at prolonging the lives of people over 60. Yet adding years to people’s lives hasn’t eliminated the ailments and common disabilities associated with aging. While in 1998, 28% of American men over 80 had functional limitations, that figure had climbed to 42% by 2006. Although fewer people die from strokes today, a growing number of older Americans live with stroke-induced disabilities. Others suffer from mental disabilities such as depression and dementia. One-third of Americans over 85 has Alzheimer’s.
After the age of 75, people’s creativity and ability to contribute to society...
Ezekiel J. Emanuel is an oncologist, a bioethicist, and a vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania.