Unlike Ezekiel Emanuel, I Hope Not to Die at 75

Although it is true that a person may reach a point when, given the diminished quality of his life, he no longer deems it worth

elderly joggerA recent headline at Breitbart.com blares, “ObamaCare Creator: Die at 75!” The headline is a little misleading. The “ObamaCare creator” in question, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, obviously did not single-handedly “create” ObamaCare, although he was, in his own words, “a White House special adviser on health policy” and thereby “party to many of the internal debates that shaped the Affordable Care Act.” Nor does Emanuel demand that everyone die at age seventy-five. Rather, in his recent article for the Atlantic, “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” he says that he hopes he will die around that age and that after that age he will “accept only palliative—not curative—treatments if [he is] suffering pain or other disability.”

Although Emanuel’s ties to ObamaCare may legitimately raise questions about why he is professing his preferences on this matter publicly, Emanuel does not in this article advocate a public policy based on his views. However, he does attempt backhandedly to put on the defensive those who do want to live as long as possible.

I am not saying that those who want to live as long as possible are unethical or wrong. [!] I am certainly not scorning or dismissing people who want to live on despite their physical and mental limitations. [!] I’m not even trying to convince anyone I’m right. Indeed, I often advise people in this age group on how to get the best medical care available in the United States for their ailments. That is their choice, and I want to support them.

And I am not advocating 75 as the official statistic of a complete, good life in order to save resources, ration health care, or address public-policy issues arising from the increases in life expectancy. [!]

Why does he choose the age of seventy-five? How is this not utterly arbitrary? By his own admission, substantial numbers of people older than seventy-five do not suffer from significant physical decline, and they remain mentally active and creative. I’ve met some people who, at the age of sixty, are less physically and mentally able than others are at the age of ninety-five; no doubt you have too.

Emanuel rightly points out that one’s quality of life can diminish substantially with age. So what? Although it is true that a person may reach a point when, given the diminished quality of his life, he no longer deems it worth living, the proper principle guiding such decisions—a principle Emanuel never states—is that the only person properly in a position to decide whether his life is worth living is the individual himself. A person’s life is his own; it does not belong to other individuals, to “society,” or to the government.

Tellingly, Emanuel opposes physician-assisted suicide on the grounds that people seeking it “tend to suffer not from unremitting pain but from depression, hopelessness, and fear of losing their dignity and control.” But averages do not apply to individuals: What of those who do seek relief from “unremitting pain?” And by what moral right does government forcibly prevent a person of sound mind from seeking a painless death, regardless of his reasons? Logically, a government that may decide for individuals whether they may quit life via physician-assisted suicide is a government that may also decide for individuals whether they may improve life via physician-assisted health care. Either an individual’s life belongs to him, or it does not—yet Emanuel seemingly cannot make up his mind on this matter.

Of course, Emanuel is entitled to his personal opinions on the matter, and he is entitled to aim for death at seventy-five if he wishes. To each his own—so long as Emanuel and company do not aim to convert their irrational opinions into political policy. Unfortunately, we have ObamaCare and the like as precedents.


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