In Why I Hope To Die At 75 Ezekiel Emmanuel, one of the primary architects of Obamacare, argues that we, our families, and society would be better off if we all died about age 75.
Needless to say (and thankfully), his family don’t share with his desire and have pointed him to numerous people aged 75 and older who are doing quite well. They think that when he gets nearer 75, he’ll push the desired age back to 80, then 85, and so on. But Emmanuel’s not budging. “I’m sure of my position, ” he insists.
He accepts that death produces loss.
Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.
But he says that “living too long is also a loss.”
It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.
Reassuringly, he’s not planning suicide 18 years from now, nor does he support euthanasia. He just wishes that when he reaches 75 his life would end. He’s already planning his own memorial service to be held before he dies, along the usual lines of many modern funerals: no crying, lots of funny stories, a celebration of life, and so on.
The American Immortal
Throughout the article, Emmanuel contrasts himself with “the American immortal.” He writes:
Americans seem to be obsessed with exercising, doing mental puzzles, consuming various juice and protein concoctions, sticking to strict diets, and popping vitamins and supplements, all in a valiant effort to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible. This has become so pervasive that it now defines a cultural type: what I call the American immortal.
I reject this aspiration. I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop.
If I had to choose between Emmanuel’s “75-and-no-more model” and the “American immortal” model I think I’d go with the former. Because, while there’s something bizarre about Emmanuel’s desire, in some ways it’s more realistic than the “I’m going to live forever” mentality that never really faces up to personal mortality and the need to prepare for the end of life.
A Modern Problem
Large proportions of the population living into their seventies and eighties is, of course, a relatively recent “problem.” In 1900, the life expectancy of an average American was 47; it took until the 1930′s to reach 60; and today a newborn can expect to live an average of about 79 years (76 for men and 81 for women).
Emmanuel recognizes that on the whole this has been a wonderful blessing to society, to families, and to individuals. The increased productivity has also been the main factor in driving the economic boom of the last 65 years.
As Christians, we thank God for His common grace that has produced the knowledge, medicines, environment, and technology that has not only lengthened so many lives, but also improved their quality. But there’s still much for the church to do in adapting to this new reality of so many living so long and how to minister better this increasingly large group of people.
A Confirmation of the Bible
Emmanuel cites oodles of statistics to prove his argument that living past 75 produces more loss than gain. Apart from the obvious physical losses, there are huge mental, social, and productivity losses that impose burdens on others. The Bible agrees with Emmanuel’s observations, although it sets the “turning point” at 70:
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away (Ps. 90:10).
But the Bible disagrees with Emmanuel’s conclusion: die healthy. We are to submit to God’s timetable, and we’re to do so with the faith that every single day God gives us has a purpose and a meaning, even when every sense in our bodies may be saying, “My life is pointless and worthless.” No, we are to glorify God in our weakness, demonstrate that we trust Him in sickness and health, in old age and youth, when weak and when strong, and so on.
But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand (Ps. 31:14-15).
The Best Memory
Unlike Emmanuel who expresses the wish to be remembered by his children and grandchildren as “active, vigorous, engaged, animated, astute, enthusiastic, funny, warm, loving” and “not stooped and sluggish, forgetful and repetitive,” Christians want to be remembered for their faith in Christ whatever their physical or mental abilities.
Emmanuel wants to be “remembered as independent, not experienced as a burden.” Christians want to be remembered as dependent on God and casting all their burdens upon Him.
Emmanuel says that leaving our family “with memories framed not by our vivacity but by our frailty is the ultimate tragedy.” No, no, no! The ultimate tragedy is to leave our family without the example of a Christ-like life and without a well-grounded hope for our eternal life.
I’m sure many of us remember with fondness the beautiful example of a godly grandfather or grandmother who despite physical and mental weakness demonstrated strong and steady faith in the face of years of sickness and eventually death. The memory is not of an ultimate tragedy but of an ultimate triumph.
If Emmanuel would come to know the One who bore his own name 2000 years ago, he’d be able to face his days of aging, weakness, illness, and death with a hope-filled spirit, knowing God was with him.
I do agree with Emmanuel that having a set age to die might focus the mind better on spiritual and eternal realities. As he said:
75 defines a clear point in time: for me, 2032. It removes the fuzziness of trying to live as long as possible. Its specificity forces us to think about the end of our lives and engage with the deepest existential questions and ponder what we want to leave our children and grandchildren, our community, our fellow Americans, the world.
The Bible, though, calls us to consider existential questions not in our latter years but in our earliest years. We are to seek Christ and His salvation in our childhood and youth. And when we find Him it transforms our life and our death. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Where’s the loss there? However long we live, there’s gain. And whenever we die, there’s gain.
That’s Christcare, not Obamacare.