Friday, April 24, 2015

Old Age is No Place for Sissies

Read the working paper
INSEAD Working Paper 2015/35/EFE

This article deals with a rather taboo subject: the consequences of prolonging life into extreme old age, now possible with advances in medical procedures. It poses the existential question about the quality of life in the final stage of the human life cycle. I suggest that most of us are more worried about the downsides of aging than about dying. We all want to live for as long as possible but none of us wants to get old. What meaning is left to life once we have completed our main evolutionary task— bringing up our children? I look at a number of issues related to old age, including societal perceptions and the dubious value philosophical and religious traditions have attributed to old age. What is it like to grow old in a youth-oriented culture? How would we prefer to be remembered, as we were when we still had our full capacities, or as doddering invalids who can no longer take care of themselves? Are our efforts to extend life misguided and potentially destructive? What use is better health care if it simply slows the dying process for people who no longer recognize themselves? Why are so many of us prepared to undergo this final indignity? Are we hanging on for ourselves or for others who cannot cope with the anticipated loss and grief? I also examine the socio-economic implications of an aging population. What effect might this have on the work environment and society as a whole? Can we really afford to prolong life?