One of Joe Biden’s selections for his own coronavirus advisory board is a doctor who has questioned the value of living past the age of 75 and who has implied society’s resources would better be used for those who are younger.
Ezekiel Emanuel, the chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania and a former Obama administration official, wrote in a 2014 issue of The Atlantic that “living too long” has a negative impact on society and an individual’s family. He stood by his controversial comments during a 2019 interview.
Emanuel, an oncologist and bioethicist, wants to live to 75, he wrote in The Atlantic.
“Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value,” he wrote. “But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”
Further, there is the “very real and oppressive financial and caregiving burdens that many, if not most” middle-age adults are “now experiencing, caught between the care of children and parents.”
Emanuel said in the same story he opposes “legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.” But he said Americans’ desire to live long lives is unwise.
“I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive,” he wrote. “For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop. … We are growing old, and our older years are not of high quality.”
In a 2019 interview with MIT Technology Review, Emanuel said his views about old age had not changed, even though he was approaching 75. He’s 63.
Asked “what’s wrong with simply enjoying an extended life,” he answered in 2019: “These people who live a vigorous life to 70, 80, 90 years of age – when I look at what those people ‘do,’ almost all of it is what I classify as play. It’s not meaningful work. They’re riding motorcycles; they’re hiking. Which can all have value – don’t get me wrong. But if it’s the main thing in your life? Ummm, that’s not probably a meaningful life.”
Emanuel bemoaned the amount of money society spends on health care for the elderly compared to the money spent on the young.
“Lots of presidents and lots of politicians say, ‘Children are our most valuable resource.’ But we as a country don’t behave like that,” he said. “We don’t invest in children the way we invest in adults, especially older adults. One of the statistics I like to point out is if you look at the federal budget, $7 goes to people over 65 for every dollar for people under 18.”
Emanuel’s positions sparked pushback on social media this week when it was revealed he was on Biden’s coronavirus advisory board. Biden is 77.
Claire Lehmann of Quillette noted Emanuel did not mention the enjoyment of “grandchildren or great-grandchildren” during his 2019 interview.
“My great-grandad – born in 1889 – waited for his 100th birthday party where his entire family came to celebrate then quietly passed in his sleep, at home,” Emanuel wrote. “Am glad I got to meet him! And am so grateful my son got to meet his great-grandparents too. If this isn’t ‘meaning,’ what is?”
My great-grandad-born in 1889-waited for his 100th birthday party where his entire family came to celebrate then quietly passed in his sleep, at home. Am glad I got to meet him! And am so grateful my son got to meet his great-grandparents too. If this isn’t “meaning,” what is?— Claire Lehmann (@clairlemon) November 9, 2020
Elizabeth Land Quant, a writer and an advocate for disabled people, called Emanuel’s views “troubling.”
“We need a Covid task force that will advocate for all of us,” Quant tweeted. “Ezekiel Emanuel, a member, has written about how a person's value and a meaningful life are tied to their physical & mental abilities, & how disabled people are burdens to their families. … I'm so sad to see him on the task force.”
We need a Covid task force that will advocate for all of us. Ezekiel Emanuel, a member, has written about how a person's value and a meaningful life are tied to their their physical & mental abilities, & how disabled people are burdens to their families. https://t.co/rYfxomgvj5— Elizabeth Land Quant (@ElizabethLQuant) November 9, 2020
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Neilson Barnard/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.