Friday, October 24, 2014

Putting a limit on lifespan

In a recent essay, Why I Hope to Die at 75, in The Atlantic, the prominent and respected health strategist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel spelled out his wish to die at the age of 75.

"I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop," wrote Emanuel, who helped develop President Obama's health care reform law and is the director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

I struggle to understand why anyone would want to exit this world at such a relatively young age. Modern science, coupled with a better understanding of the biological mechanisms that promote a long healthy life make it eminently possible to live far longer than the accepted norm. And even by conservative standards, 75 is below the age that most of us will achieve. Today the average American can expect to make it to 79, although the 'average American' (or Brit for that matter) is not a glowing example of a lifestyle designed to promote long life.

For me, living a long and as healthy-as-possible a life is the holy grail. My goal is to delay the inevitable fade to black for as long as possible. I get Emanuel's argument that living with infirmity, lengthening the dying process and becoming a burden on society is not an attractive option, but I am not about to accept that it is inevitable. One-time killer diseases and many life-threatening medical conditions are now curable or treatable. A healthy lifestyle - plenty of physical activity and a finely tuned diet - will promote good health and longevity. Around the world, scientists are making astonishing progress in understanding the mechanists at work in promoting better health.

As a productive 75+ year old my plan will be - yes, to enjoy life - to hopefully do some of my best work and also give back. For every day that I wake up and smell the coffee, embrace the sun's rays and breath fresh air, I want to engage and inspire others to make our world a better place. Lofty yes - but this lifetime is the only chance I'll get.

I spoke with Dr. Emanuel at BBC.com/Future's World Changing Ideas Summit in New York City. Full BBC coverage here.

Dr. Emanuel has done a great job at getting people talking about the human life - or health - span and he makes an excellent point that life should be about living in the moment - about enjoying the 'now.' But I am still not persuaded that life should be capped at 75 - or any number, for that matter.