A recurring theme in the spate of dystopian futurist movies popular in our youth was that someday the government would start killing off all the old people. The notion provided a memorable scene in “Soylent Green” where Edward G. Robinson shuffled off to the local suicide center where the aged were treated to soothing music and images as they ceased to be a burden, and the entire plot of “Logan’s Run” was based on a society that maintained its perfectly organized order by offing anyone over the age of 30. In the late ’60s and early ’70s audiences found this plausible, with the younger and hipper movie-goers smugly assuming it was just the sort of thing that President Richard Nixon and his right-wing buddies would love to do, but it’s not been until the era of hope and change and the left-wing ascendancy that we’ve started to worry about it.
Our worries were heightened by the once-venerable Atlantic Monthly’s recent publication of an article by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in which he expresses his desire to die at age 75 and urges the rest of us to do the same. This morbid advice would ordinarily be easy to ignore, but Emanuel is the brother of former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, has served as a special advisor to the Obama White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and is currently a fellow at the Obama White House-affiliated Center for American Progress. He painstakingly insists that he’s not advocating euthanasia, and he couches his argument mostly in terms of the individual’s best interests rather than society’s or the government’s bottom line, but there’s no shaking a discomfiting feeling that his enthusiasm for a mass early exit from this earthly plane isn’t entirely apolitical, or that it won’t have some appeal to the bureaucrats charged with balancing Obamacare’s hard-to-balance books.
His arguments for dying at age 75 probably won’t be persuasive to anybody else. He correctly notes that people tend to have more aches and pains and get around less energetically after 75 than they did in their younger days, but throughout history most people have found that more tolerable than the proposed alternative. Some people are afflicted with aches and pains and limited mobility early in life, too, and although Emanuel isn’t quite so bold as the Nazis were in suggesting that these unfortunate folks should also cash it in neither does he bother to discount the idea. He further notes that the vast majority of people are less productive after the age of 75, and cites some studies suggesting the decline begins well before that point, but the notion that an individual’s life is only of value to the extent that it serves the collective is also abhorrent. He acknowledges that some people retain great creativity and usefulness late into life, without considering how someone might know if they’re one of them until they reach an age well beyond 75, and he begrudgingly concedes that even the most debilitated oldsters still provide love and meaning to the lives of the families and friends, although he seems to regard this as a silly sentimentality, but he still insists that the rather arbitrary age of 75 is when shuffling off this mortal coil is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
What’s most unsettling, however, is that Emanuel’s arguments are so consistent with a predominant anti-life strain in modern liberalism. The enthusiasm for abortion even when a baby has survived the procedure, the advocacy for other extreme means of population control, the antipathy toward the scientific advances that have allowed agriculture to sustain the lives of untold billions around the world, and the younger generations’ apparent aversion to procreation and preference for polar bears, all reflect a peculiar post-religious belief that human life is not a precious gift granted by God to each human being but rather a problematic privilege conferred or revoked by more earthly ruling elites. Throw in the facts that the president of the United States has told the daughter of a centenarian that her mother should “take a pill” rather than get the expensive surgery she needs to continue a vital life, and his former Secretary of Health Human Services has explained a decision to deny a young girl life-saving treatment because “some people live and some people die,” and one of his former advisors is advocating death at age 75, and those old dystopian futurist flicks no longer seem so far-fetched. Nixon and his right-wing buddies have nothing to do with it, but otherwise they’re starting seem to prophetic.
– Bud Norman