There are various reasons why Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel is well-known. One of the things that people usually remember about him is the post he wrote in 2014, “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” which he wrote while working as an oncologist and bioethicist for President Obama.
Some have accused him of being insane and ungrateful, while others have emailed him praising him for voicing the same beliefs that they had previously been ridiculed for. A 75-year-old man who died in rural New York requested that his mourners sit and read the essay instead of making a financial contribution.
That Emanuel is so open to the idea of dying early, just a few years short of the average American’s life expectancy, is in stark contrast to how the vast majority of Americans see death. Approximately 70% of Americans, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, want to live to be 100 years old. What’s going on here?
“The urge to live forever, or for lengthy periods of time, has always been part of the human soul,” says Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics. Life expectancy has increased over the previous century, and longevity researchers (not to mention Silicon Valley types) are working toward a life that lasts at least a couple of decades longer. People now appear to have good reason to be optimistic.
The desire to live longer isn’t just driven by the desire to be a pioneer. When it comes to being mortal, “the fact of our own mortality is the most difficult and unfathomable to us as mortals.” For us, as meaning-laden creatures, it’s impossible to imagine what it would be like not not exist. A fear of missing out on life’s greatest adventure could be triggered by contemplating death’s arid landscape.
The chances of enjoying a long, healthy life that is both good and good are quite slim. After 75, “nearly everyone has completed their most meaningful years,” which means that life isn’t as good as it appears. Most people’s physical abilities begin to decline around the age of 80, and we all become less creative as we age. We may live longer, but we don’t get older any quicker..
People in their fifties and sixties have a greater grasp of this. A life well lived and a time for that life to transition itself can be seen in those towards the end of their lives, says Wolpe. “It’s more difficult for younger individuals, while older ones don’t.”
Attitude appears to be more important than age when people are asked how long they hope to live. One in six adults surveyed between the ages of 18 and 64 stated that they would like to die before the age of 80, according to the poll. A more negative outlook on old age prevailed among those who did. This despite an overwhelming majority of respondents saying they wanted to live long lives and were more optimistic about their personal retirement plans.