Friday, April 19, 2013

The Right to Life (Last Chapter)

People are just living life to death. They are living it up as it were. The health care system is tanking from keeping a relatively small percentage of the population alive and the children of many of these lifers are finding their expendable incomes diminished by the expense of caring for a whole generation whose depleted assets no longer support their existence. It is estimated that it costs Medicare $45,000 per year in the last three years in the life of an individual, who doesn’t die or heart disease or stroke, but dementia.  James Atlas dealt with this issue in a Times Op-Ed piece, “Life Goes On, and On...” (NYT, 12/17/11). So is euthanasia what the doctor ordered? Should actuarial decisions be made regarding the degree to which society should invest in an aging body? Is it possible  to decide that there is no value in extending the life of someone who has outlived their use? Horses are shot when they go lame? We sell or junk the car when it repairs are so expensive that it makes more sense to buy a new one. We stop investing in the infrastructure of a house or building when we realize that we are throwing good money after bad. But can a human being be treated in the same way? We are now having the equivalent of the abortion debate when it comes to the elderly, though virtually no one is suggesting the idea of abortion, of aborting the lives of those who are no longer capable of contributing to society. But what about the right to die? What about those who no longer wish to be kept alive by the latest advance in medical science? What about those who determine that their lives have become a burden to themselves and to those they love? Should we trust that the individual, plagued by massive subjectivity, is the best judge of his or her value to his or herself and others?


  1. Difficult questions. Of course, the answer is different for everyone, which makes it difficult to come up with an institutional one-size-for-all answer. Unless the solution is to respect the wishes of the individual (which is not without problems of its own).
    But I have to ask you (and everyone) to define 'productive member of society.' I've never been able to figure out exactly what that means (except in its economic sense, which implies that an American's only reason for existence is to work for and create profits for someone else). Are philosophers productive? Bloggers? Artists? I've noticed (heresy!) that the people who do the most good in the world are often not its productive members. Nelson Mandela, as a man who spent decades in prison for speaking truth and working for justice, certainly could not be described as 'productive' in the usual meaning of the term. Maybe questioning our definitions is the place to start.

  2. This is a very good question and I don’t have the answer. I think it’s not so much what one is dong, but what one isn’t doing. Let’s say I become a totally excrescence who is a total burden. Let’s say that people are actually getting sick having to deal with my decaying condition. I’m not really living, but i refuse to give up life. That;s the point that I personally would hope that I would have the guts to conclude that I was no longer a productive member of society.


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