Can You Live Too Long?

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Back to Blog shutterstock 317474312 Can You Live Too Long? Mental health Long Term Care Health Care Health EOL End of Life Management End of life care end of life

Though many welcome the idea of living as long as possible, some view extreme old age as burdensome. Is there such a thing as living too long?
In an essay that appears in The Atlantic, prominent bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel argues living into your 80s, 90s and beyond usually comes at a high cost. Emanuel says he will be “perfectly content” if he dies at age 75.

“By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life,” Emanuel writes. “I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown. I will have seen my grandchildren born. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions I am going to make. And hopefully I will not have too many mental and physical limitations.”

Emanuel says he is not arguing for euthanasia. Rather he wants to call attention to “a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining.”

He also says the efforts that go into living as long as possible, like extreme lifesaving medical interventions often result in extending the dying process and eventually end in “death without dignity.” Emanuel writes, “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.”

A counter argument comes from CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus who says, “Ezekiel Emanuel did a remarkable thing: he created discourse and made everybody start to talk about this,” but he respectfully disagrees.

“I’m an optimist,” Agus said. “I know we can prevent or delay most diseases. At the same time, I see we have ways to reverse these diseases that are happening now. So it’s a very exciting time for medicine. I throw out the arbitrary age of 75 because I think we can all live much longer.”

Agus, author of the books “The End of Illness” and “A Short Guide to a Long Life,” believes we should embrace any extra years we are afforded as a result of medical breakthroughs, better nutrition and “overall improvements in quality of life.”

Agus says pushing the limits of the human lifespan is becoming more and more possible as diseases are cured and researchers uncover potential ways to counter the effects of the aging process. “There really is hope to live a much longer life with quality going forward. But you’ve got to take the steps today in your 20s, 30s and 40s to make that difference,” said Agus.

Read the stories here and here.


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