Like a bike rack outside an elementary school, the hallway outside the dining room of Caruth Haven Court, where my father now lives, is a jumble of age-appropriate mobility: walkers,wheelchairs and motorized scooters parked akimbo. When I first encountered this scene,I felt a kind of sucker punch to my gut delivered by, in equal parts, disgust and fear; at best, I figured, I was a mere 25 years away from my own set of wheels, my own depressing symbol of aging’s inexorable physical decay. The image isn’t so deadly now, though, after a year of daily visits to Dad; it has become a sort of new normal, and I am making every effort to live in my present, not Dad’s. But it hasn’t entirely lost its punch. When I read “[Living to 100 and Beyond]” in the *Wall Street Journal *(August 27, 2011), my brain screamed, “But there’s not room in the wheelchair parking lot for all those people!”
And that’s just my initial response. Talk about disgust: what kind of people are we that we might feel entitled to take up more than our allotted time and space on this earth? What makes someone our age -- or any age -- believe we have a right to even more of the world’s limited resources? And why would anyone in his or her right mind exploit science and knowledge for sheer longevity when there are so many more pressing problems to solve,so many more ways that life might be improved than by simply extending it? Instead of staving off death, why not stave off hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and disease that cuts life short? Instead of investing in renewable body parts, why not better schools, less destructive sources of energy, and new skill sets for resolving conflict across cultures? The very idea of extending “the good life” past 100, much less to 150, is, to me, callous, arrogant, selfish, thoughtless greed -- on steroids! (Other critics more judiciously call it simply hubris.)
Ann Patchett explores the issue of fertility for older women in her new novel [State of Wonder], and it ends badly. (Frankly, it was a tough read for me, coming off precious, but absolutely exhausting time with my two infant grandsons this summer. Talk about nightmares: I could get pregnant at 63? No thanks!) But I digress.
Practically speaking, where would all the Extended Elderly live? What are the implications for the food supply, medical care, transportation, pollution, jobs and careers, the economy, politics, and family relationships? Talk about an aging society!
I’m not advocating death panels. I have no particular “golden age” in mind beyond which we should not tread. I’m all for the advances which -- across the board -- have increased humankind’s healthy life span over the ages. But I do not believe it is conscionable just because one has a rich life to demand “More, More!” as [Sonia Arrison] does in her book, “100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith” from which the WSJ article was excerpted. She writes, “Everything that we have, socially and as individuals, is based on the richness of life. There can be no more basic obligation than to help ourselves and future generations to enjoy longer, healthier spans on the Earth that we share.”
*And you? Please add your thoughts in the Comments section below.*
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