The first was an email from a friend to say he had been diagnosed with malignant myeloma in August and that, despite aggressive chemo, it had already spread to his lymph nodes and possibly his liver. His prognosis is not good: the probability of surviving beyond two years is 17% at best. My friend is 52.
The second was an article entitled Why I Hope to Die at 75 written by Ezekiel Emanuel and published in the September edition of The Atlantic. A link to the 5000+ word piece was posted on Facebook with the admonition, “something we all need to think about.” Well, I have been thinking about it. And reading other opinions, and discussing it with family and friends. Because my first response to it is a keen resentment that this man—who vainly gushes about his recent trek up Mount Kilimanjaro—is 57 and healthy and has the almighty gall to say he hopes to die at, oh, 75. The mind-boggling hubris. The inanity of it. My father said, I’m sure he’ll change his mind at 75. My friend Sr. Marie of the Sisters of Christian Doctrine snorted, He thinks he’s in control?
Well, actually Mr. Emanuel does. Beyond palliative measures, he wants no medical intervention whatsoever once he reaches the advanced age of 75. Not even a preventative flu shot. (Although with an efficacy rate of 23%, I’m with him on that.) Unless you have the extreme good luck of being an “outlier,” Ezekiel believes it’s all downhill from 75. At that age, one’s mental acuity and physical abilities are, and have been for some time, on the wane despite heroic efforts to keep deterioration at bay. Once past our expiration date, we have little to offer society. Indeed, we owe it to the “sandwich generation,” i.e., those unfortunates taking care of both their children and aged parents, to graciously get out of the way.
His arguments are couched in gentle and self-deprecating humor. Ezekiel understands how unthinkable most of us believe giving up is, he really does. In fact, his writing is so reasonable, so even-handed, you might just overlook some gems like these:
· Our living too long places real emotional weights on our progeny. . .while children can never fully escape this weight even after a parent dies, there is much less pressure to conform to parental expectations and demands after they are gone.
· 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.
· But even if we manage not to become burdens to them, our shadowing them until their old age is also a loss. And leaving them—and our grandchildren—with memories framed not by our vivacity but by our frailty is the ultimate tragedy.
· Once a country has a life expectancy past 75 for both men and women, this measure should be ignored. Instead, we should look much more carefully at children’s health measures.
· The deadline [in Emanuel’s case, the self-imposed age of 75] also forces each of us to ask whether our consumption is worth our contribution.
So, why does this matter? Because Ezekiel Emanuel is not some random individual with an opinion; he was one of the minds contributing to ObamaCare.
Now it is true had I not received the email about my (likely) dying friend, I may have read this thoughtlessly, been mildly irritated at Mr. Emanuel’s arrogance. But as it happened, I did receive the grievous news about a friend desperately hoping to live and, on the same day, an article by someone blithely tossing away the gift of life because he doesn't wish to be perceived as doddering, he doesn't wish to be a burden, he doesn’t want to be remembered as anything less than vital and interesting. Silly man. My friend could tell him what he wishes may not figure into this at all.
Do you want to know what the kicker is? At the very end of his protracted argument about the advantages of embracing death prematurely, Ezekiel Emanuel infuriatingly writes this: My daughters and dear friends will continue to try to convince me that I am wrong and can live a valuable life much longer. And I retain the right to change my mind and offer a vigorous and reasoned defense of living as long as possible.
Really? Am I supposed to chuckle here at Mr. Emanuel’s verbal shrug of the shoulders, his Whoops! Guess I was wrong!? I think not. It’s a bit disingenuous to, at the very end, undercut the purpose of the article. He wrote this piece to advance the ObamaCare agenda. Most of us do not have the resources at our disposal that Mr. Emanuel has, and I’ve no doubt at 75 he will be tenaciously clinging to life and availing himself of every bit of medical technology around. With his overweening ego, he won’t be questioning his value to society. But it’s okay if we do. It’s okay if we question if we are a burden on society and our families. It’s okay if we question our usefulness. What Mr. Emanuel has written amounts to an unconscionable little push to those on the edge—the ill, the indigent, the elderly—the vulnerable ones who just might think he has a point.
We are the same age, Ezekiel and I. Fifty-seven. I am not nearly as well-written, learned, or clever, and I’m assuredly not as physically fit as he is. There is an underlying cruelty, unfairness, and falsity of positing self-sacrifice as noble, as being for the greater good. The truth is we can’t afford government-run, single-payer healthcare. Some will have to die. Ezekiel hopes it’s not him. He rather hopes it’s you.
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