Don’t fear the reaper

For people who aren't looking forward to their bodies outliving their minds, better alternatives may be on their way.

For people who aren’t looking forward to their bodies outliving their minds, better alternatives may be on the way.

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?

Image credit: albund / 123RF Stock Photo

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7 thoughts on “Don’t fear the reaper

  1. Many people may be offended by your post. I’m sorry to say it’s something I’ve been thinking about a good bit lately. I’m not getting any younger, you know! But, I work in an Alzheimer unit, so I worry. I pray I won’t end up with that disease and hope if I do, I can be put out of my misery!

    • I understand it’s a touchy subject! The article just affirmed a lot of things I’ve thought for a long time, and I think it merits discussion. If you think everything is God’s will then the question is moot. But Kevorkian was controversial in his day, and now two states have assisted suicide laws on the books. Personally, I’m really tired of other people’s religious beliefs dictating how I should live my life — and I live in KS so that statement has a high degree of relevance. If you want to struggle and suffer, go for it. But I don’t think a life governed by dementia or Alzheimer’s or other crippling diseases is worth living.

  2. My mother doesn’t fear death, in fact she has been “ready to go” for several years and is sometimes annoyed it is taking so long. That is depressing for me, so I try to make her life as meaningful and filled with love as I can. You are right, it is a very big issue depending on your religious beliefs, and some people are horrified to even consider it. It comes down to what you think happens after death. For me, as long as I have a purpose and some joy in living I will do all I can to keep my body in shape to do it. I’d like to have a choice when that is no longer the case.

    • From your posts it sounds as if you’re doing a wonderful job of making your mom feel loved.

      I take care of Grandma’s every need, but after 7 years of her being very demanding and selectively helpless, “loving” is probably not an accurate description of me. “Resigned to making sure the old lady in the basement has food, medicine and bathes regularly” is probably more fitting, because the person I grew up with is long gone.

      I want my kids to remember me as active and capable and yes, still getting some joy out of life. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I’m old, but I don’t think so.

  3. My first week working at a nursing home, I had the opportunity to ride along with our regional director to get some supplies from the store. He has worked in healthcare long enough to move up the chain to supervise 12 nursing facilities. I asked him what his plans are when he gets old. These were his words: ” I want a one-way trip down a trout stream in bear country.” I think the longer you are around the elderly and see all their ailments and struggles, the less you want to live to see 100.

    • Very thought provoking! What if when you receive a fatal diagnosis you could plan an awesome adventure you’re guaranteed not to come home from? It sounds morbid at first. But if you face chemo or slowly losing your mind vs going out with a bang, who’s to say which option is better? As you said, the more suffering you’ve witnessed the less appealing survival at all cost sounds.

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