I’m not going to comment (well, overmuch anyway) on this moving, thought-provoking and beautifully-written piece by Michael Wolff, described by New York magazine in these terms:
The era of medical miracles has created a new phase of aging, as far from living as it is from dying. A son’s plea to let his mother go.
It is a must-read but it should not be used to give any support to the rather disgusting opinions of the likes of “bio-ethicists” such as Leon Kass:
For Kass, to argue that life is better without death is to argue “that human life would be better being something other than human.”
In numerous presentations and papers throughout the years, Kass has argued for what he calls the “virtues of mortality.” First among them is the effect mortality has on our interest in and engagement with life. To number our days, Kass contends, “is the condition for making them count and for treasuring and appreciating all that life brings.”
Kass also believes that the process of aging itself is important because it helps us make sense of our lives.
A 2003 staff working paper drawn up by the U.S. President’s Council of Bioethics — then headed by Kass — states: “The very experience of spending a life, and of becoming spent in doing so, contributes to our sense of accomplishment and commitment, and to our sense of the meaningfulness of the passage of time, and of our passage through it.”
Technology that retards aging, the report argues, would “sever age from the moorings of nature, time and maturity.
Do note, incidentally, that this death-cultist was given the job of running a taxpayer-funded boondoggle (the US President’s Council of Bioethics indeed) by George W. Bush, President “Compassionate” himself.
Obviously (yes, obviously), the further we are able to extend life, the better. The key, however, is extending the quality of life, and there technology, tragically, moves at an uneven pace. At the core of Mr. Wollf’s piece is the fact that our ability to stretch out the life of the body appears at the moment to be running ahead of our ability to preserve the life of the mind, a mismatch that can cause terrible suffering. But the crucial words are “at the moment”. Stories like these are no reason to slow the science down.
Anyway, check out the piece, and see what you think. It’s sometimes painful reading, but it’s worth the time.
Wolff concludes like this:
Anyway, after due consideration, I decided on my own that I plainly would never want what LTC insurance buys, and, too, that this would be a bad deal. My bet is that, even in America, even as screwed up as our health care is, we baby-boomers watching our parents’ long and agonizing deaths won’t do this to ourselves. We will surely, we must surely, find a better, cheaper, quicker, kinder way out.
Meanwhile, since, like my mother, I can’t count on someone putting a pillow over my head, I’ll be trying to work out the timing and details of a do-it-yourself exit strategy. As should we all.
In Brave New World, as I recall, everyone lives into their early sixties, then swiftly declines and dies. That seems to me ideal if the necessary genomic tinkering can be done.
Until it is, sauve qui peut. I have a good selection of guns and have made up my mind that if it comes to diapers, I shall see myself out with a gun. I will not wear diapers—that’s the end point for me, the milestone I am determined not to pass.
I promise not to make too much of a mess. Heart, not head—like Flory in Burmese Days—and outdoors if I can make it: ideally a nice hillside in the Poconos, watching the sun go down, with a good cigar and some decent bourbon for company. But I will not wear diapers.
John, I’ll pass on the (negative) genomic tinkering, thank you very much (but I’ll take any good genomic tinkering, I have always wanted to score a century, at least). That said, I agree with you and Wolff that, in the absence of intervening catastrophe, planning one’s own exit is the way to go, and, I might add, as selflessly as possible. If you’re able to do it yourself, don’t drag others into your decision-making. That’ll only hurt them. Do all the paperwork. Leave everything in order. And then, I think, an overdose of something soothing. I’m no Bradlaugh or Gunther Sachs. I’m not tough enough to pull that trigger. The Poconos? No. Too much of a shock for an unwary hitchiker,and too much of a treat for passing wildlife.Sky-burial is not for me. A hotel room in a favorite place (somewhere in the southwest, perhaps), would do nicely. There would be a large donation on the side-table for the unfortunate who discovered my corpse.
But would I ever be able to decide that now was the time “not to be”? Now that is the question.