NOTE TO READERS: At ease, folks. This is not another of my ancient newspaper pieces. It is, instead, a letter I mailed recently to Tom Ashbrook, host of WBUR.org’s radio program “On Point”. I listen regularly to “On Point” because Mr. Ashbrook does, I believe, an excellent job of moderating discussions of issues I consider significant, so please do not get the impression from my initial remarks that I negatively view his program. Some of you might think it peculiar that I would employ a letter as a blog post. Well, all I can say to that is that I feel very strongly about this subject, and I see what I wrote to Mr. Ashbrook as sufficiently appropriate and well enough composed to fit this space.
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
Hi, Mr. Ashbrook:
I called this morning shortly after your discussion of the quest for extended lifespan began; held on for more than thirty minutes before being told by a lady that you wouldn’t have time for me today. More than the lost time on my phone minutes allowance at Consumer Cellular, I regret missing the opportunity to express my disgust with the whole notion of extending life beyond the rounded-off figure of “three score and ten”. So, I opted for this alternative method, even though I realize it won’t go any further than your and your staff’s eyes.
First, let me render the requisite “disclosure”: I turned 75 last December 29th. How I managed to pass into year 75, I have no idea, for I exercise little and have led in my youth a slightly dissolute life. Also, I have been in several accidents of various sorts and have been threatened a few times because of my opinions. And I suffer from a low-level but nearly constant type of depression known as dysthymia. But enough of that; let’s get to the issue before us.
I have no problem with people wanting to make their lives more healthy, active, and joyful. Nor am I against trying to ameliorate the pains of those dying of cancer and other gross diseases, although I suspect that a plausible philosophical case might be made for viewing that as a negative goal; it is something I have not considered much and is not really pertinent here.
My main issue with extending lifespans is that I believe the intelligent and prosperous among us have a duty to birth and a duty to die. I have to plead guilty to violating the first part of that principle, since I never married, never had a child. However, I see myself as partly excusable in that my father was a lousy male role model, and I doubt that I would have been any better father than he.
Now I fear that I might violate, unintentionally, the second part of my principle as well. Although I walk with a cane’s help and have a deteriorating memory, I don’t feel incapacitated in any other way. Is Alzheimer’s around the corner?
In 1984, Richard Lamm — then-governor of Colorado — sparked a controversy when he said, “We’ve got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.” He earned the nickname “Governor Gloom” over that remark, but I agreed with him then and I agree with the substance of his comment now. Our young people are having a hard enough time of it finding jobs, so the debate is developing over whether a college education is really worth the money and time spent in classes.
Moreover, recently I saw a TV news report (don’t recall what network or the exact date) which showed a graph of the increasing gap between lengthened lifespans and the decline in birthrates. Odd that a few decades ago we were concerned over the “population explosion”; but that explosion, apparently, is due to extended longevity, not entirely to increases in births. At the rate we are going, retirement residences, medical facilities, and Social Security will certainly become exhausted.
And then there is the situation with our declining resources. The ocean is becoming a death trap for most of the sea life, the Amazon forest is being cut down for gold, silver and oil, our top soil is blowing away, prime agricultural land is being developed so people can escape the smog in our cities. Cosmologist Stephen Hawking reportedly said recently that we must find a home on another celestial body within the next 1,000 years or humanity will become extinct. People with the money are lining up to buy one-way tickets to Mars.
I think it is selfish as well as foolish to hanker after the moonshine called “extended lifespan”. Well, there, at least I got it off my chest, even though I couldn’t get it onto the airwaves. By the way, lest I leave you with the false impression that I am antagonistic to you or to your program, be assured that I gain much from listening almost every day. You are very competent at following through with the mode suggested by the name of the program, keeping interviewees focused “on point”.
NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.