A Life Worth Ending?

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.

Bradlaugh agrees:

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.

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5 Responses to A Life Worth Ending?

  1. Luis says:

    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.

    Ah, yes, because the boomers’ track record of solving their own messes is so great. Or, wait, maybe it’s completely awful. I forget which.

  2. TangoMan says:

    Obviously (yes, obviously), the further we are able to extend life, the better.

    Better for whom though? Better for the person affected most assuredly but what happens to how society functions when we all become Methuselahs?

    The military has an Up-Or-Out and defined times in rank policies. It would be great for a Colonel to be in his rank for 20 years but when he parks himself there he creates downstream negative affects on the promotion chain and is that good for the younger officers?

    If we assume that life extension policies don’t intrude on how working life is structured and occur during the retirement phase, unless the retired person is either economically productive or financially self-sufficient, their extended life will need to be paid for by taxing the value created by those in the workforce and thereby diminish the income that these people can use to better their own lives. Extending years of life in retirement is certainly good for the retired people but it’s not so obviously good for the younger people who become poorer by being forced to support the older people and this effect is most pronounced in a social welfare state where the elderly parent and adult child relationship is most often not played out in the same household.

    No, I’m not seeing the obviousness that you see.

    Libertarians often argue for the beauty of their philosophy and simply swat away the inconvenience of the welfare policies we have an in place and how the combination of libertarian favored policies being implemented in a welfare state leads to an incoherent mess of society, well the same applies to some conservative principles which are anchored in a society with wide scale socialized welfare policies. As it stands now our dependency ratio is increasing as we extend life ever further and these costs are being paid by society and there are negative consequences for all which offset the personal gains that accrue to the elderly.

  3. John says:

    If we found a cure for aging, that would pretty much end the justification for Social Security and government pension plans. Suppose you knew you would be 24 forever (or until you died of an accident, disease, ect.) You might save some money, but not necessarily enough to live for 20 years after you are too old to work. You could work a few decades at a career, take a break, and start something totally new. A cure for aging would transform society in ways we can barely begin to imagine.

    There are downsides, of course. If we had found a cure a long time ago, a majority of the population would still be in favor of slavery.

  4. j mct says:

    Kass’s opinions are … ‘disgusting’? Spoken like a true Epicurean!

  5. Easter Island Sally says:

    Unfortunately, a “do-it-yourself” strategy isn’t always a viable option; and that’s what makes the John Ashcrofts of the world such a threat to those of us on the road to codgerdom.

    For too many of us, the sign that it’s time to clock out is an event that renders us incapable of doing so– like a major stroke that leaves one nursing-home bound and too weak or paralyzed to execute the suicide plan.

    Thus the hard choice becomes: kill oneself when one’s experienced one’s first TIA or minor stroke, although one might have enjoyable years left; or risk being unable to do so when life really does become intolerable.

    No. I want to be able to leave a medical power-of-attorney with a trusted friend, and I want that POA to include giving him the power to demand that I be given The Shot. I trust that friend with that decision much more than I trust compassionate caring health professionals, and much, much more than I trust the people whose self-appointed task it is to protect the sanctity of God’s greatest gift.

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