Ezekiel J. Emanuel, in his Sept. 17 Atlantic Monthly article, "Why I Hope to Die at 75," underscored his belief that age 75 is a dandy time to draw your last breath. With this in mind, Emanuel states emphatically that when he reaches this age he plans to stop all medical tests and treatments that could improve and enhance his advancing years. My clients, from college age to well beyond, don't think too much of Dr. Emanuel's definitions of a relevant life. My friends and I don't either.
In his thesis, Ezekiel Emanuel unintentionally does much more than convince us to do our best to call it quits at age 75. He offers the best example possible of the importance of "emotional intelligence" and that those with a high IQ can be exceedingly shortsighted, insensitive, as well as cruel (although, to give him the benefit of a doubt, unknowingly). He also offers strong evidence that kids can be pushed to achieve so intensely that they never truly live or even begin to understand what embracing life and love actually means.
In his article Emanuel states that with aging "many of us, if not disabled ... (are) faltering and declining," (and) "will no longer be remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual even pathetic." In his description of the perils of physical aging, he does raise an important point: When is it wise (for the individual, his family, as well as society) to end a losing battle against illness and infirmity? What Emanuel does not understand, however, is that for many, devoted family care of a parent or partner continues to be a gift of love. To quote my client, a 21-year-old college senior: "My parents have given my brother and me so much. If they ever need care or support, it could never be a burden. I will gladly provide it without a moment's hesitation."
Further, Emanuel sees those who continue to contribute past the age of 75 in ways he values as rare exceptions and insists that when one's "creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world" has declined, life is not worth living. He believes that time to patiently mentor others and enjoy one's hard earned later years surrounded by people and activities that are fulfilling is meaningless. He quotes Einstein: "A person who has not made his great contribution to science before age 30 will never do so." To this, I suggest the following four responses: "So what!" "Who cares!" "There is extremely meaningful and rewarding work that will never be considered for a Nobel Prize." And, "What about one's quality of love and caring for and about others?" In the words of a close 71-year-old friend, a retired English professor, who, among so much else, delivers meals to shut-ins and teaches English at a local jail: "Does Dr. Emanuel need a heart replacement?"
Following are seven reasons why Dr. Emanuel would benefit immensely from a heavy dose of intensive self reflection about his thinking:
1. Two components of a fulfilling and mature life are the ability to work and the ability to love. Emanuel knows only the former.
2.. By age 75 the kids are out of the house. One can stay in bed with a lover all day, eat chocolates, read, watch movies, and yes, Emanuel, have terrific sex. This means lazy days when the only decision is, "Shall we cook or order in?" Who in their right mind would want to miss this?
3. One of the greatest joys in life is making pancakes for our grandchildren. One of the other greatest joys is that they go home. Who would want to miss this?
4. How about seeing a grandchild married and dancing at his or her wedding? (Yep, many can and do, even in wheelchairs and with walkers and oxygen.) Not exactly a minor experience! Who would want to miss this!
5. And how about holding a great grandchild? What a WOW!
6. Who in their right mind would write a paper putting his father, a physician, down for wanting to enjoy his life, after surviving serious illness. (To quote a friend, "Somebody should put Emanuel in a room and deny him supper until he writes two sentences 100 times in long hand: 'I will learn to be more empathetic and respectful to my elders, especially my own father who worked like hell to care for his family as well as help others' and 'I will stop being a dreadful snob.'")
7. Who in their right mind would leave the following horrific legacy to his children? When constant creative, productive work is no longer possible for you, your life is no longer worth living. Can there be a more destructive message from a dad? (His kids would do well to not accept his calls until he writes two more sentences in long hand 100 times, "I will learn to be kinder and more empathetic toward my children, and all children" and "The opinions of others are as important as my own.")
In conclusion, I wish our author, a misguided health care professional and faulty philosopher, a long and fulfilling life, one where more life lessons and perspectives come his way. This guy with brains, but limited awareness, would be wise to understand that the only one who has the right to judge the quality and meaning of his or her life is the person living it.