Ezekiel J. Emanuel, 57, wants to die 18 years from now. We know this because he’s told us — in the title of an essay that’s received an enormous amount of attention since it appeared on the website of The Atlantic last Wednesday.
“Why I Hope to Die at 75” is one of those essays that will spark a nationwide conversation and debate. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart. On the contrary, given the author’s prominence in the world of health-care policy — he played a major role in designing ObamaCare, contributes frequent health-care-related op-eds to The New York Times, directs the Clinical Bioethics Department at the National Institutes of Health, and heads the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania — what’s most noteworthy about the essay is its stunning combination of wisdom and insight with moral idiocy.
First, the good news.
In certain passages of the essay, Emanuel writes intelligently and critically about a cultural aspiration that he calls, with irony, “the American immortal.” This futile desire “to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible” leads Americans to be “obsessed with exercising, doing mental puzzles, consuming various juice and protein concoctions, sticking to strict diets, and popping vitamins and supplements.” And of course, it also motivates the quest to devise treatments for life-threatening maladies — heart attack, stroke, cancer — well into people’s eighth and even ninth decades of life. Such treatments not only cost enormous sums of money; in many cases, they also lead to deaths that are far more drawn-out, debilitating, and painful than they otherwise would be.