75 Years of Life Is Quite Enough, Says U.S. Health Authority

There is a point beyond which life is no longer worth living, both because of diminished mental and physical capacities, and because of how the living will remember us.

Ezekiel Emanuel, director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, is raising awareness about the complexities of end-of-life care by publicly declining to receive any life-prolonging medication after the age of seventy-five—even antibiotics. There is a point beyond which, he argues, life is no longer worth living, both because of diminished mental and physical capacities, and because of how the living will remember us:


"Doubtless, death is a loss. ... In short, it deprives us of all the things we value. But...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. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic."

No doubt many of us know someone over the age of seventy-five who lives a full life. My grandfather, who is approaching eighty, is one of them. Emanuel admits that seventy-five is a somewhat arbitrary number, but he says it's worth defending if it can keep some people from becoming cogs in the medical establishment's machine. 

Richard Dawkins, in his Big Think interview, argues that a certain arrogance accompanies our quest for immortality, or at least our quest to live as long as we possibly can despite the consequences:

Read more at BBC Future

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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