A recent NY Times article, On Dying After Your Time, poses many topics for discussion that must be addressed. I knew before I even started to read the article that readers will have varying opinions on the matter of extending life beyond its appointed time to die. These opinions will be based on ethics, biases, age of the reader, and religious beliefs, to be sure, but another factor that comes into play is the personal experience of each reader.
If the reader has watched a loved one perilously balanced in limbo with a ravaged-by-disease body and/or mind, that reader might lean towards declaring that too much is being done to artificially prolong life. In the past five years of my life, I have watched both my father and my sister-in-law die from Alzheimer’s. Who they were at the end of their lives didn’t come close to resembling who they were pre-disease. If the reader has had no experience with this aspect of life and death, that reader may feel more comfortable with the decision to throw every treatment possible at the patient with the goal of allowing that person to live as long as humanly – or scientifically – possible.
One of the issues presented in the NY Times article is the fact that as we live longer, there is an increase in the amount of chronic illnesses – a fact that certainly stands to reason. “This rise in chronic illness should also give us pause about the idea, common to proponents of radical life extension, that we can slow aging in a way that leaves us in perfectly good health…The evolutionary theory of senescence [growing old; biological aging] can be stated as follows: while bodies are not designed to fail, neither are they designed for extended operation.”
The author of the NY Times article is an 83 year old man who closes out the piece by stating, “We are not, however, obliged to help the old become indefinitely older. Indeed, our duty may be just the reverse: to let death have its day.”
If you haven’t yet formed an opinion on the matter of life-extension at all costs – I encourage you to do so before it’s too late. Life and death decisions are best made well in advance of the necessity of such decisions.