There is an old joke that goes something like this:
A man visits his doctor on his 80th birthday and asks the doctor if he thinks he’ll live to reach 90.
The doctor says, “Do you drink liquor?”
And the old man says, “No.”
“Do you do any strenuous activities like jogging or skiing?”
“Do you smoke cigarettes or cigars or take any nonprescription drugs?”
“Of course not,” the man replied.
“Do you eat bacon, beef or rich baked goods?”
The old fellow looks at him proudly. “I’m eating almost exclusively good healthy fiber.”
The doctor continued. “Do you party on the weekends or travel to foreign countries?”
“No, no,” he says. “I stay pretty close to home and I’m in bed every night by nine.”
“Since your wife passed away have you developed a relationship that requires you to, you know, exert yourself?” Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
“Good grief,” the old timer proclaims, “those days are long behind me.”
Having heard the man’s denial of every indulgence, the doctor looks him straight in the eye and says , “So why do you want to live to age 90?”
There’s much to be said for considering the concept of the quality of life versus the quantity of life. While 30 years ago heart attacks often took people in their 60s who were otherwise healthy, medical advances have had a huge impact in that area for those who manage their health care well and stay on top of issues pertaining to heart health. Without a question, we all have an opportunity to live a pretty darned good quality of life, barring the misfortune of an early disease onset, well into our 80s or beyond.
But there may come a time when the quality of life may deteriorate to a point where waking hours are full of suffering, loneliness, loss and outright resentment. At that point, medical advances intended to prolong life serve more to extend suffering, even when medical intervention can relieve outright pain. There are many people who exist in elder care homes and hospitals who are alive, but certainly would not view themselves as living any quality of life. And there are families who must endure long periods when their relatives are lost to them in terms of communication or understanding, but still there in body, albeit often broken bodies.
In theory, I know what I would want to choose for myself if I was in such a situation. It is my desire to depart the earth without a period of lengthy suffering for me or my family. But personal choice is not always an option. In the interim, I’m thinking I should stew less about how to live longer and more about how to live better.
Graham Hookey writes about education and parenting (firstname.lastname@example.org).