Just 10 percent of the population — mainly the elderly — consumes about 80 percent of health care expenditures, primarily on expensive chronic illnesses and end-of-life costs. Historically, the longer lives that medical advances have given us have run exactly parallel to the increase in chronic illness and the explosion in costs. Can we possibly afford to live even longer — much less radically longer?
What’s more, an important and liberating part of modern life has been upward social and economic mobility. The old retire from work and their place is taken by the young. A society where the aged stay in place for many more years would surely throw that fruitful passing of the generations into chaos.
I have often been struck, at funerals of the elderly, of the common phrase that while the deceased will be missed, he or she led a “full life.” Adding years to a life doesn’t necessarily make it any fuller.
We may properly hope that scientific advances help ensure, with ever greater reliability, that young people manage to become old people. We are not, however, obliged to help the old become indefinitely older. Indeed, our duty may be just the reverse: to let death have its day.
This is Daniel Callahan in The New York Times.