The Good Funeral Guide Blog

The terrifying price of too-long life

Friday, 8 April 2011

If you like waking up to war, famine, pestilence and people shouting at each other you like Radio 4. Oddly, I do.

This morning I emerged from a day-denying doze to hear medical people warning of the cancerous perils of alcohol, even small amounts of it. You too perhaps. Chilling stuff. The advice seems to be to knock it on the head altogether, though if you’ve ever drunk, stopping only partially reduces your chances of avoiding, in Betjeman’s words, ‘A losing fight with frightful pain / Or a gasping fight for breath.’ The tones of the medics’ voices seemed to be high in gloat-factor. Read the Indy report of this latest health scare here.

As both a resolute drinker and a tenacious smoker I should have been especially terrified but I wasn’t at all and lit up instead. I don’t kid myself, as these doctors seem to do, that the healthy alternative to life-enhancing recreational drugs is immortality. On the contrary, I wanted to reach out to them and warn them that if they eke themselves out rather than use themselves up they’re in for the most terrifying fate of all. The price of longevity can be the cruellest death of all.

In response to the terrifying longevity epidemic that is now beginning to overwhelm ‘advanced’ societies, an excellent website, SOARS, has established itself in Brighton. It promotes rational suicide for the over 85s. It’s well worth an hour or so of your time. Here, to whet your appetite, are some extracts:

In 1900, the average life expectancy at birth for the world as a whole was only around 30 years, and in the Western world just under 50. The figures now, according to an Economist report last year, are 67 and 78 respectively, and still rising.

SOARS is mainly concerned about those who are 85 and older. Today, in the UK, there are 1.3 million individuals in this age group: by 2020, it is believed there will be at least two million: and, by 2035, it is  estimated that there will be 3.2 million, accounting for five per cent of the population.

A Newcastle University “85 plus” study, published last December, stated that nine in ten of these elderly people would be expected to have at least three health problems, such as heart disease, osteoarthritis and impaired vision, which would require treatment. Ageing populations put increasing burdens on a nation’s health and social services. In an ideal world, the rising financial costs involved should not be an issue, but, unfortunately, this world is very far from ideal.

“In my 30 years as an Emergency Room physician, I have watched many people die. I’ve learned from them that the modern American death is often a chronic illness, spanning some five to 10 years, in which a person slowly looses their mobility, their independence, their ability to perform basic activities of daily living, their intellect, and all ability to enjoy life. At some point in this decline, many of us would choose to say, ‘enough suffering, just let me die” – Dr. Jeanne Fitzpatrick, writing in The Huffington Post, February 9, 2010.

SOARS website here.

 

 

7 comments on “The terrifying price of too-long life

  1. Wednesday 13th April 2011 at 12:56 pm

    ? Snuff said?

  2. Wednesday 13th April 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Nuff said!

  3. Friday 8th April 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Healthwise, I guess for my age I’m quite lucky so far, touching wood, crossing fingers and all. But “in the pink?” H’mmm. Not as was, and of course never will be.

    Maybe the problem is that it’s gradual. If people awoke one morning and everything had changed, life was no longer worth living because they were multiply incontinent and/or senilely demented or any of those other things that scare us out of our socks, that’d be simple. But it generally happens gradually, and the urge to survive is hot-wired into us. Life tries to live, usually, come what may. Thus far, I’m with Rupert.

    I agree that although a miserable old age is a huge cost to society, that might be a dangerous criterion. Rather focus on the value and quality of an old and chronically ill person’s life to herself. If that person feels it’s not worth living, then they should be allowed to end it. That’s easy written, but the potential moral and legal complexities trouble people very much. Is the old chap free of pressure from those who want his worldly goods? Is he of sound mind? (whatever that means…) etc.

    And yes, I feel (unsurprisingly, I feel this increasingly!) that old people should be listened to for what they have learned – provided they are in a fit state to say something worth listening to, and provided they have learned something of value.

    Our culture worships youth, and in reaction we sometimes idealise old age – perhaps less often than we used to? Pace of social change, etc. Youth and age, age and youth – can be a merry dance, can be a state of mutual bafflement.

    But I do value Charles’ distinction between eking out a life and using a life up.

    Interesting topic, interesting views.

  4. Friday 8th April 2011 at 1:58 pm

    It might be argued that Tom burdened himself! I entirely agree with you about society’s view and treatment of old people. And I concede that the will to live may be stronger than I suppose — I haven’t got there yet. But when your body has given up on you to the extent that life doesn’t feel worth living — well, a sense of burdensomeness may be a factor in that? I don’t know…

  5. Friday 8th April 2011 at 1:41 pm

    While I totally agree with and support the campaign to legalise assisted suicide, I think notions of ‘burdening’ society are dangerous and are similar to the tactics used by some company’s offering pre-paid funeral plans to induce familial guilt. As Thomas Lynch said, ‘why shouldn’t I burden my children? They sure as hell burdened me.’ Instead of viewing old people as a problem to be dealt with, why couldn’t we go back to honouring their wisdom and life experience and treating them as the most treasured members of society, not the least?
    And it’s not just oldies who are expensive. One man’s costly thieving, druggy burden to the state is another man’s socially deprived unjustly imprisoned victim.
    Also, as new research into people in a PVS, (persistent vegetive state) using cutting edge brain imaging is showing that many more of them are happy than was previously thought, and don’t wont to be ‘put to sleep’.
    In other words, bold statements about future quality of life are easy to make when in the pink, but don’t be surprised when bad times come along that the urge to cling to life, however compromised it may be, is very strong indeed.

  6. Friday 8th April 2011 at 11:44 am

    It is gratifying to have such a wholehearted endorsement!

    I’m interested that you include the state, Denise. I think that a lot of very old people are influenced by a sense of responsibility to society (is it right to go on costing all this?).

  7. Friday 8th April 2011 at 11:34 am

    Totally agree. Can’t see the point of wasting my own resources (that I would rather let the kids have) or any state resources on keeping me alive to vegetate in a bathchair at some nursing home where I would probably have to suffer the indignity of all and sundry washing and feeding me. Of course I may not have the mental facilities to even notice – what a life – NOT for me, PLEASE! I hope by then that assisted suicide would be legal and someone (like me) could accompany those to their chosen end knowing that you would be doing them, their families, and the state, a favour!

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