How Long Do You Want to Live?

die at 75My godson’s daughter went to her prom last week. As I look over the photos of her standing in her lovely pink gown in front of the house, I’m amazed. It seems like just yesterday that she was riding her tricycle in the same spot. When I think about my own senior prom, I don’t remember being at all like the self-assured young lady in the photos.

After reflecting back, I started thinking about the future. How many more cars will I would buy in this lifetime? How long I will I be able to continue to drive? Perhaps my thoughts were fueled by the article I’d just read from the October 2014 issue of The Atlantic. The title was “Why I Hope to Die at 75” and was written by oncologist Ezekiel J. Emanuel. (link)

He explained why he doesn’t want to live long enough to become disabled and dependent. He wants to die before he has a lot of limitations. At the time he wrote the article, he had 18 years left before this arbitrary “deadline” and was in very good health.

His position is that taking heroic measures to try to prolong life for as long as possible is costly and desperate. Rather than agree to, say late-life major surgery, he would prefer to allow nature to take its course. At the appointed age, he plans to begin refusing medical tests and treatments. No devices implanted into his chest. Just palliative care to ease any suffering.

His is a controversial position. Most people try and use every measure possible and will not give up regardless of a dim prognosis. But I get it. Not wanting to go through surgery or painful procedures just to give myself a few more months doesn’t make sense if those months would be spent hooked up to machines or languishing in discomfort or being unable to function. It also doesn’t make sense if it will bankrupt the family.

Still, I cannot see setting an age after which I won’t want to live. Each of us ages differently, so who’s to say what kind of shape I’ll be in when I’m 75? Or 85 for that matter? And how can I know what will be important to me at that time? Maybe I will find meaning and connection without what seems to be important right now.

What I got from his article was a shift in focus. Rather than be focused on trying to live as long as possible, maybe it’s more important to pay attention to how we want to spend the time we have. His piece made me determined to live more fully. As my godson’s daughter prepares to graduate this week and go on to college in the fall, I am filled with happy memories of seeing her grow up. This article reminds me to be more mindful of what really matters. To decide how to spend my time and energy on things that are most important.

It remains to be seen what Dr. Emanuel will do when 2032 rolls around and he turns 75. As for me, I’m foregoing the timetable. Knowing that tomorrow is not promised to any of us, I’m going to focus on making the most of today.

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