Monday, July 22, 2013

When Extending Life Becomes Prolonging Death

There was an item recently in the Vancouver Sun about how a lot of the current crop of young people will live 100-years or longer.

Wow, one hundred years.   If I recall right, as the 19th century came to a close average lifespan was in the 45-50 year range.  In the immediate post-war era, men retired at 65 and then seemed to peg out a few years later, 67-70 maybe.  I think we've broken into the 80s now but 100?   That's going to take some high science.

What's less clear is if we're actually extending life or simply prolonging death - a lot.   We are, after all, adding years to the top range, the time when things start breaking down.   On sure, we're extending quality of life a good bit too.  70 is the new 60, that sort of thing.  It's not but we can make it resemble that with enough painkillers, muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories, blood thinners and such.

Research is underway now to try to work out just what living longer means to the elderly.  Who wants to ride a bedpan for an extra 20 years?  Would you?

But this is another conversation we're never going to have.  It invites all sorts of subjective judgments and arguments that will inevitably be drawn into the dark realm of euthanasia - Solyent Green indeed.

My guess is that the issue is going to be resolved by money.  There simply won't be enough money around to float the extra healthcare needed to prolong death for extra years.   Much as we don't like to admit it, we already ration healthcare because we have to - there are not enough resources to go around for everything and every one.  I wonder how we'll feel when the rich are able to buy an extra ten or twenty years but your grandma has to go without?

Some people get the luxury of a fast end - a massive heart attack on the 12th green sort of thing.   For most, however, death is a process of gradual decline and deterioration.  The factor we need to consider with extending longevity is whether we're forestalling the arrival of the process of dying or merely extending the death process itself.


rww said...

"{ I wonder how we'll feel when the rich are able to buy an extra ten or twenty years but your grandma has to go without? "

And you don't think we're not already there when the wealthier can afford better diets and don't have to work at life shortening jobs. Life expectancy is very much a factor of income.

The Mound of Sound said...

You're right, of course, RWW, but the situation will become far more pronounced over the next decade or two. This isn't simply a question of healthcare outcomes either. Climate change adaptation will likewise become class-structured. The less advantaged will be left behind to increasingly fend for themselves.

The U.S. already has what can only be considered "gated municipalities" that exclude any but the wealthy. In that way the wealthy pay only for minimal services for themselves and don't have to carry any burden for shelters, food relief or low-income housing. That burden they then shove off onto what remains of the middle class.