Every morning, NBC’s Today Show wishes a slew of centenarians a big ol’ Happy Birthday. To do it up right, they slap a picture of each 100+ something on a Smucker’s Preserves Label, with a listing of their name, age and hometown. Impressively, Willard Scott, the Today Show’s Centenarian Birthday Spokesperson, gets many more requests than he can fulfill on the air. OK, never mind the irony in the use of a ‘Preserves’ label to frame the Birthday girl or boy, but this daily episode always gets me thinking: Are we living too long?
There are two things that come into play here…cost and quality of life:
1. The Cost Factor:
Not long ago, I wrote an entry asking the question, ‘Is Medicine the Culprit of Unhealthy Lifestyle Choices? There was great commentary, some of which started a separate discussion around health care costs. The following was posed: Are unhealthy decisions really that much more costly when those who are healthier, are living twice as long? Doesn’t the healthier individual end up needing the same amount of health care as a result of living longer? Hmmm…
2. The Quality of Life Factor:
Once again, I will make the argument that medicine gives us many tremendous things. We have a lot to be thankful for when we think of curing disease, mending and repairing organs and broken bones, and the like. However, does medicine also prolong our life too far past our own intended expiration date?
For instance, medicine is so powerful, that we are able to keep a person alive purely by feeding them oxygen and keeping their heart pumping, even though the rest of their body is failing. We can drug people to levels of oblivion to kill pain and symptoms of life-threatening disease so we can keep them physically alive, but mentally dead. And, law prohibits those who are terminally ill from choosing death over life, even though they are unhappy and living in an undignified and painful state without any hope for change.
Medicine has successfully removed people’s ability to die with dignity. Instead, medicine forces people to live like vegetables, sometimes not having any idea of what is going on around them. And, although there are the rare 99+ year olds who have a sharp and alert mind, more often than not, they are extremely limited in their ability to really LIVE life.
Frankly, I’d much rather die suddenly than live to be 100 without very much physical capacity or for that matter, mental capacity. Living a life that has very little ‘living’ in it seems pointless. If we could live to 100 and actually partake in what life has to offer, I’d be all for it, but I’m not convinced this is really the case. Until medicine can extend our quantity of years AND ensure a quality of life that is worth living, I will continue to ask: Are we living too long?
As our population gets older, quality of life will continue to be an issue. Do you want to live to 100? Do you think medicine keeps us living past our expiration date?