The Ageism That Colors Views of Death

Anne C. reinforces a good point she has made in the past (and which can't be made too often, at least until the point is gone):

I've never understood people who say things like, "Well, I want to live to be 100 in perfect health, and then die peacefully in my sleep". The contradiction in that sort of statement should be obvious. Healthy people don't die in their sleep, "peacefully" or otherwise. You don't hear about too many 25-year-olds dying suddenly of heart attacks or strokes during their nightly slumber. There are a few -- some people end up expiring suddenly in their twenties or thirties due to undiagnosed cardiovascular dysfunction and other similar conditions, but the majority of people found dead in their beds are elderly.

When people in their twenties die, it's usually considered tragic. When babies are found dead in their cribs, it's referred to by a name ("Sudden Infant Death Syndrome"). But when elderly people die, in bed or otherwise, there tends to be a curious tone of, "Well, at least they went peacefully".

Is this attitude a result of resignation to what most folk - falsely - believe to be inevitable and writ in stone? Is it a construct built atop the green-eyed monster of envy; that a person who led a full life has had their turn, had enough, doesn't deserve more? Or is it built upon fear of the age-related degeneration that most people believe - falsely - must come to pass for them as well, and a desire to avoid encountering any reminder of that fate? Whatever the roots, we can do better than this. Our situation is the archetypical morality play; the more rapidly and effectively we develop real anti-aging medicines to help those suffering the effects of aging today, the more health and life we will received in turn.

The aged and frail are neither strangers nor aliens. They are people too, just like you and I; if they lived in the body of a 30-year old, you'd treat them just the same way as any other middle-aged person and be none the wiser. In many cases, they've used their extra years of life to become better folk than you or I, for any value system you care to name.

An extra year of health and life is an extra year of health and life, no matter who it comes to. Any technology capable of giving that year to one person can give it to many; we're all customers in this market. Ageism, like racism, is one of those states of mind that will come to be seen as crude, undesirable and uncultured - and we will look back and shudder at the ugly actions and inhumanities that were commonplace during its era of prevalence.

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You say:" In many cases, they've used their extra years of life to become better folk than you or I, for any value system you care to name."
I think that Western society has denigrated the old and considers them obsolete. We could take a lesson from the East where the old are considered wise and listened to. Of course we do have Native Americans who also respect the elderly, but when do the rest of us - in the US - hear from them.

Posted by: margaret Diamond at October 9th, 2006 9:03 PM

Personally I find the obsession with longevity quite strange. I don't see any contradiction in wanting to have a lifespan of 100 years and then die peacefully. Immortality sounds horrendous - where do we find the space for all the immortals?

Anyway, I reckon I'd be pretty bored by 100 - time to take a punt on the big question - is there an afterlife?

You'd feel a total idiot if there was some kind of paradise and you'd spent 200 years trying to stay alive!

Posted by: Boorach at October 12th, 2006 1:15 PM

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