The cover story for New York Magazine’s May 28th issue is titled “A Life Worth Ending.” The author, Michael Wolff, “argues” for the voluntary euthanizing of the sick and elderly—not a rational argument, but an appeal to our emotions, our finances, and our hatred of being inconvenienced.
Most of the article is taken up with the story of Wolff’s mother who is suffering from dementia, seizures, and a host of other debilitating health issues. While no human could read his mother’s story without feeling a strong sense of compassion and empathy for both what his mother has endured as well as her family, his proposal is chilling: kill. Here are some of the most provocative excerpts:
And yet, I will tell you, what I feel most intensely when I sit by my mother’s bed is a crushing sense of guilt for keeping her alive. Who can accept such suffering—who can so conscientiously facilitate it?
Age is one of the great modern adventures, a technological marvel—we’re given several more youthful-ish decades if we take care of ourselves. Almost nobody, at least openly, sees this for its ultimate, dismaying, unintended consequence: By promoting longevity and technologically inhibiting death, we have created a new biological status held by an ever-growing part of the nation, a no-exit state that persists longer and longer, one that is nearly as remote from life as death, but which, unlike death, requires vast service, indentured servitude really, and resources.
This is not just a drawn-out, stoic, and heroic long good-bye. This is human carnage. Seventy percent of those older than 80 have a chronic disability, according to one study; 53 percent in this group have at least one severe disability; and 36 percent have moderate to severe cognitive impairments; you definitely don’t want to know what’s considered to be a moderate impairment.
There are now more than 5 million demented Americans. By 2050, upward of 15 million of us will have lost our minds. Speaking of price: This year, the costs of dementia care will be $200 billion. By 2050, $1 trillion. Make no mistake, the purpose of long-term-care insurance is to help finance some of the greatest misery and suffering human beings have yet devised.
“Old age,” says one of Philip Roth’s protagonists, “isn’t a battle, it’s a massacre.” I’d add, it’s a holocaust. Circumstances have conspired to rob the human person—a mass of humanity—of all hope and dignity and comfort.
The absurdity of where we are, here on death row, measured not just in our heartache but nationally in hundreds of billions of dollars, can only be missed by the people who have no experience with the true nature and far-flung extremes of quality of life.
“It’s been a year,” I began, groping for what needed to be said: Let’s do this, close it down, end it, wanting to murder the euphemisms as much as my mom. “We’ve seen a series of incremental but marked declines.”
I do not know how death panels ever got such a bad name. Perhaps they should have been called deliverance panels. What I would not do for a fair-minded body to whom I might plead for my mother’s end.
The alternative is nuts: to look forward to paying trillions and to bankrupting the nation as well as our souls as we endure the suffering of our parents and our inability to help them get where they’re going. The single greatest pressure on health care is the disproportionate resources devoted to the elderly, to not just the old, but to the old old, and yet no one says what all old children of old parents know: This is not just wrongheaded but steals the life from everyone involved.
And it seems all the more savage because there is such a simple fix: Give us the right to make provisions for when we want to go. Give families the ability to make a fair case of enough being enough, of the end’s, de facto, having come.
My bet is that, even in America, even as screwed up as our health care is, we baby-boomers watching our parents’ long and agonizing deaths won’t do this to ourselves. We will surely, we must surely, find a better, cheaper, quicker, kinder way out.
Meanwhile, since, like my mother, I can’t count on someone putting a pillow over my head, I’ll be trying to work out the timing and details of a do-it-yourself exit strategy. As should we all.
That’s right. We’ve entered a day when living with severe health problems that are costly and put an emotional burden on family makes people guilty for allowing them to even live. We would rather just do away with the inconvenience, all in the name of compassion and good fiscal sense. This is a cheapening of human value and human dignity. I’ve seen the ravages of disease on people, including my own mother who died a slow death from cancer. It’s not a pretty sight, and it’s difficult to deal with emotionally. But the solution is not to kill ourselves or to allow such individuals to be killed by others. Nothing devalues human beings more than telling them that once they experience major health issues, start costing a lot of money to care for, or start requiring a lot of our time and care, that they are better off dead. That is abandonment, not compassion. The solution is effective pain management, love, patience, and compassion. We are not promised a cozy, pain-free life until the day we die. Sickness and pain are part of the human experience. If we turn to death to eliminate this part of our humanity, we’ll lose part of our humanity in the process.
HT: Wesley J. Smith