When Ezekiel Emanuel popped onto the national stage during the Obamacare deliberations, some of us had serious misgivings.
We were familiar with his previous work, such as his “complete lives system” of allocating health resources. This would have prioritized adolescents and young adults in receiving health care and put infants and the elderly at the end of the line. Samuel Kerstein of the University of Maryland and Greg Bogner of New York University wrote a dispassionate critique of the proposal, concluding that it lacked an “adequate moral foundation” and failed to “provide meaningful guidance on a range of central issues.”
Many Obamacare critics worried such an allocation system would be used sooner or later to ration services within the program. It was not an unreasonable fear. Virtually all the writing of the legislation took place behind closed doors, and one of the priorities was to lower costs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement that we won’t know what is in the law until after it was passed certainly didn’t help sooth these anxieties.
Now Zeke is back with a major article in The Atlantic, in which he provides a rationale for death at age 75. In his opinion, people older than 75 are annoying. They aren’t as productive as they used to be, don’t “contribute to work, society, the world.” They are more likely to be disabled, “a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived.” Plus, they are a pain in the ass: “they set expectations, render judgments, impose their opinions, interfere, and are generally a looming presence for even adult children.”
Zeke is only 57, but I would say he already qualifies on most of those measurements. I can’t see that he contributes much to society and the world, and he certainly “renders judgments, imposes his opinions, and interferes” where he isn’t wanted. And I would guess he isn’t as productive as he once was. Why wait until he is 75 years old?
You’re Just a Statistic
Zeke admits there are exceptions to all of this. Why, he even once worked with an 80-year-old economist who was quite useful. And the article includes a pull quote (so you know it’s important) that states, “The average age at which Nobel Prize winning physicists make their discovery is 48.” This is supposed to show (I guess) that older people aren’t all that clever. In fact, it doesn’t support that idea at all. If the average (median?) age is 48, then half are making their discovery after 48, possibly well into their 60s, or even (gasp) their 70s.
And that may be Zeke’s biggest flaw—he is arbitrary. There is nothing magical about the age of 75. Some people have rich lives long beyond that. Other people become senile well before. But like most Progressives, Zeke sees only cookie-cutter people. In his mind, we are all the same, just a pile of numbers and statistics.
He has no idea how offensive this is. He genuinely seems to think that once someone is stamped with the label “Disabled,” they are less than human. He says, “We [Americans] are growing old, and our older years are not of high quality.” What an idiotic statement. What is “high quality?” Is it okay with him if my life is not “high” quality but still “pretty good” quality? Is his standard of high quality the same as mine? Are there no younger people with “low-quality” lives?
But he is also naïve. He cites a study of aging, and says “[t]he results show that as people age, there is a progressive erosion of physical functioning.” Good grief. He needed a study to know that? Everyone has known that since the dawn of man.
He writes of his 87-year old father, who had a heart attack about ten years ago. “Since then he has not been the same. Once the prototype of a hyperactive Emanuel, suddenly his walking, his talking, his humor got slower. Today he can swim, read the newspaper, needle his kids on the phone, and still live with my mother in their own house. But everything seems sluggish.” He also quotes his father as saying, “ I have slowed down tremendously. That is a fact. I no longer make rounds at the hospital or teach.” Zeke adds, “Despite this, he also said he was happy.”
The man is 87 and has slowed down, but he is happy. Only Zeke Emanuel would see this as a problem. Apparently, in Zeke’s mind the failure to be hyperactive is worthy of death.
Emanuel Thinks He Can Quantify Your Worth
As it happens, I agree with him about my own life. I, too, have advance directives instructing caregivers not to prolong it artificially. I don’t see much value in squeezing out every extra day, especially if I am in pain. I’m 67, my hearing is shot, and my vision is getting worse. I don’t normally talk about these things because no one wants to hear it and I’m not looking for sympathy.
On the other hand, since I retired, I’ve been able to read some of the great classics I never had time for when I was working. I give back to my church and my community. I do what I can to nurture my children and grandchildren and can encourage younger colleagues in their work. And I’m writing a book about the history of health reform. Is that so very bad? Is it likely to stop in eight years when I turn 75?
Now, Zeke also takes a moment to consider the spiritual side of things:
I also think my view conjures up spiritual and existential reasons for people to scorn and reject it. Many of us have suppressed, actively or passively, thinking about God, heaven and hell, and whether we return to the worms. We are agnostics or atheists, or just don’t think about whether there is a God and why she should care at all about mere mortals. We also avoid constantly thinking about the purpose of our lives and the mark we will leave. Is making money, chasing the dream, all worth it? Indeed, most of us have found a way to live our lives comfortably without acknowledging, much less answering, these big questions on a regular basis. We have gotten into a productive routine that helps us ignore them. And I don’t purport to have the answers.
Here, Zeke reveals his narcissism. He has certain attitudes, and assumes the rest of the world is the same. But that may underlie his desire to die at 75, as well. He can’t stand the thought that someday he will not be as wonderful as he thinks he has always been.
He’s right about that. Aging is the ultimate cure for narcissism. And that is something Zeke Emanuel cannot abide.