Bioethics Blogs

Living large, living long and just getting by

Ezekiel Emanuel has written a controversial piece in The Atlantic entitled Why I Hope to Die at 75: An argument that society and families — and you — will be better off if nature takes its course swiftly and promptly. I never thought that I would write about it on this blog, given its developing world focus. And yet, as I read Emanuel’s piece, it was hard not to wonder how his thoughts would be regarded from the Global South.

Let’s jump to the punch line. Emanuel’s conclusion is that he does want to live beyond the age of 75 and, when he reaches that age, he will forgo all medical interventions that aim to prolong his life. Transposing the conclusion to policy, Emanuel concludes that raising life expectancy in a society beyond the age of 75 is not an appropriate public health goal. More attention should be spent on ensuring that sub-groups (like African American males) attain a life-expectancy of 75 years or improving the statistics on infant and adolescent mortality.

These are his conclusions, but how does he get there? What reasons are offered for the ‘hope to die at 75’ on personal and policy levels? The main reasons are that as people age beyond 75, they experience various degrees and types of physical and mental disability. We all know this, of course, but Emanuel has an especially self-revealing way of mapping this out. A noteworthy fact: the average of Nobel Prize winners is 48. Other noteworthy fact: studies on creativity have shown that classical composers write their first major works in their twenties, peak in their 40’s, and then go into irreversible decline.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.