From Technology Review:
Ezekiel Emanuel questions “whether our consumption is worth our contribution” in old age.
by Stephen S. Hall
Aug 21, 2019
In October 2014, Ezekiel Emanuel published an essay in the Atlantic called “Why I Hope to Die at 75.”
When he had just turned 57.
Because Emanuel is a medical doctor and chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s department of medical ethics and health policy, as well as a chief architect of Obamacare, the article stirred enormous controversy.
Emanuel vowed to refuse not only heroic medical interventions once he turned 75, but also antibiotics and vaccinations.
Headline in 2032: “Famed Medical Ethicist Identified as Patient Zero in New Epidemic Because He Refused to Get Vaccinated.”
His argument: older Americans live too long in a diminished state, raising the question of, as he put it, “whether our consumption is worth our contribution.”
Emanuel was born into a combative clan. One brother, Rahm, recently completed two terms as the controversial mayor of Chicago; another brother, Ari, is a high-profile Hollywood agent.
Also, his dad Benjamin, who is now 92 was a member of Jabotinsky’s rightwing Irgun terrorist group that blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, and caused some embarrassment in 2008 when he proclaimed to an Israeli newspaper about his son Rahm: “Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”
You can sympathize with poor Ezekiel sitting around the ancestral dinner table listening to his father boasting for the hundredth time about how Rahm ethnically cleansed the Cabrini-Green housing project just like Irgun ethnically cleansed the Deir Yassin Arab village back in 1948.
Update: Since this interview in August, I have now learned. Dr. Benjamin Emanuel has passed away. To Rahm and Ari Emanuel, condolences. To Ezekiel, congratulations.
But even given his DNA, Emanuel’s death wish was a provocative argument from a medical ethicist and health-care expert.
Emanuel, now 62, talked with me about the social implications of longevity research and why he isn’t a fan of extending life spans. I was particularly curious to get his reaction to several promising new anti-aging drugs.
EE: “I often get, from the people who want to dismiss me, “You know, my Aunt Nellie, she was clear as a bell at 94, and blah-blah-blah …” But as I said in the article, there are outliers. There are not that many people who continue to be active and engaged and actually creative past 75. It’s a very small number. … And even more important, for most people, is the biological decline in cognitive function. If you look at really smart people, there aren’t that many writing brand-new books after 75, and really developing new areas where they are leading thinkers. They tend to be re-tilling familiar areas that they’ve worked on for a long time.”
Indeed, but how many people develop new areas where they are leading thinkers at any age? It really doesn’t seem like a sensible hurdle that if you aren’t a leading thinker you don’t have any reason to live?
Q: What’s wrong with simply enjoying an extended life?
A: These people who live a vigorous life to 70, 80, 90 years of age—when I look at what those people “do,” almost all of it is what I classify as play. It’s not meaningful work. They’re riding motorcycles; they’re hiking. Which can all have value—don’t get me wrong. But if it’s the main thing in your life? Ummm, that’s not probably a meaningful life.
Or maybe they are relaxing after working hard for most of their lives?
I saw Ari Emanuel at Riviera Golf club on a weekday afternoon in August. After an eventful career, he’s seems to be spending more time with his golf game. Has he not earned some relaxation?
For example, singer Tina Turner worked really hard for a really long career to entertain us:
But she retired 10 years ago at age 69 to a chateau in Switzerland:
Turner is 79 years old. She has been retired for 10 years, and she is still basking in all of the nothing she has to do. “I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I don’t dress up,” she told me.
That will do, Tina, that’ll do.