Take a walk with me, dear readers, into the not-so-distant future …
You might note I said walk, not drive. That’s because fossil fuels are exorbitantly expensive now and only the uber-rich can afford to drive. Nobody can afford air conditioning either, and thanks to climate change it’s hotter than hell. Corporate greed and the rising cost of living have depleted retirement funds, so there are millions of indigent old people shuffling around in the heat, waiting to die.
Nobody’s kicking back and enjoying their golden years in their back porch rockers — they’re miserable. Some bravely forego their medication and let nature run its course. But fear of death is so ingrained many keep taking the pills the pharmaceutical companies make sure are in plentiful supply. These people are not really living, but they’re not quite dead — they’re in manmade purgatory right here on Earth.
Yuk huh? You’re telling me I slaved away in corporate America for 40-odd years to end up like this? No thanks. Fortunately, an alternate, more optimistic future is also possible.
In this version, people choose when they die, and the process is pharmaceutically enhanced to be pleasant — even enjoyable. Millions of dollars are saved because modern medicine shifts its emphasis from preserving life at all cost to giving people the tools to make the when-to-end-it call themselves. Retirement funds aren’t decimated by expensive, futile treatments because people no longer fear death. The average person consumes fewer resources because life expectancy is replaced with life optimization. We don’t automatically expect to live longer; we control living better.
I realize there are faults with option two: religious beliefs … societal taboos … people with Alzheimer’s or dementia who can’t make choices for themselves … medical breakthroughs yet to be made. But the nightmare first scenario could be reality if mankind stays on its current course. We can’t just keep extending life regardless of its quality; the planet can’t sustain it, and it’s not fair to the young people who shoulder the burden of perpetuating programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Journalist Alexander Zaitchik explores these issues in depth in his article Global warming, LSD, euthanasia: Bring on the death panels. He combines a lot of ideas I’ve touched on, such as modern medicine’s ability to extend life having a point of diminishing return and my own fears of ending up like Grandma. She told me just the other day she’s not ready to die, but if she could let go peacefully and comfortably would she continue her existence comprised of eating, sleeping and doctor visits? Even if she would I bet a lot of other people in similar situations would opt out.
I’m a pessimist, but I’m not alone. Zaitchik cites numerous examples of fiction tackling end-of-life issues, immortality and a world increasingly hostile to the elderly. He also notes medical research is exploring the therapeutic qualities of drugs like LSD and their potential role in making death a more palatable option. I’d feel a lot better knowing I don’t have to dread the day when my mind gives out but my body keeps going.
What about you? Is this idea blasphemy? Or is it an idea whose time has come? It’s nice to believe everyone will have the health and resources to enjoy a few carefree golden years, but wouldn’t you feel better knowing there’s a Plan B if things go awry?
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