In this Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020 photo, Robin Addison, a nurse at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash., demonstrates how she wears a respirator helmet with a face shield. It is similar to the one she used when she helped treat a man, currently in isolation at the hospital, who is believed to be the first person in the U.S. to have contacted a dangerous new virus that originated in China. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ezekiel Emanuel, the architect of Obamacare, is an advisor on coronavirus to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Emanuel famously wrote a 2014 Atlantic article titled “I Hope to Die at 75.” Unless he’s a hypocrite, Emanuel’s own words demand he tell Biden that COVID-19, which disproportionately kills elderly Americans, is a blessing rather than a curse, and just when researchers work to “cure aging.”
To be clear, Emanuel doesn’t advocate for himself or anyone else to commit suicide on reaching 75, nor is he promoting marching seniors off to death chambers. Rather, he cites statistics to make the obvious point that older people suffer more infirmities and ailments, and in various ways are diminished from their younger, more vibrant selves. He then maintains that “living too long is … 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.”
Therefore, he tells us, “At 75 and beyond, I will need a good reason to even visit the doctor and take any medical test or treatment.”
This morally perverse view assumes that for most people over the age of 75, more life is somehow not worth living. But it’s the individual, not his statistics, that really counts. It’s one thing to speculate whether loved ones suffering from dementia would rather have died before the ailment took their memories. It’s another to suggest that because an elderly individual can no longer play football or engage in certain activities, that life holds too little joy to be worth holding on to. If Emanuel fears his joys won’t outweigh his sorrows past 75, that’s his bizarre judgment. To suggest this is the case for the rest of us is sheer pretense.
But what does Emanuel’s perspective imply about COVID-19? In his Atlantic article, he writes, “Certainly if there were to be a flu pandemic, a younger person who has yet to live a complete life ought to get the vaccine or any antiviral drugs.” But for him at 75, “Flu shots are out.” Emanuel says he takes guidance from Sir William Osler, who wrote, “Pneumonia may well be called the friend of the aged. Taken off by it in an acute, short, not often painful illness, the old man escapes those ‘cold gradations of decay.’”
If Emanuel is consistent, he must advise the 77-year-old Biden that COVID-19 is a friend of the aged, doing them a favor by quickly ushering them to death, and that it would be a mistake to “waste” medical resources on them.
Emanuel criticizes what he calls “the American immortal,” those who want to live as long as possible, arguing that “this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive.”
No, it is a manifestation of the unbridled optimism and love of life that makes this country great and is shared by the best individuals all over the world.
Ironically, Emanuel’s “better to be dead” pessimism comes in the wake of the global growth of the singularity, life extension, and transhumanist movements. These are premised on the understanding that we can potentially live healthier, longer lives by mitigating the ailments associated with aging, enhancing human biology, and even treating aging as a disease that can be cured. This is not science fiction.
Farsighted tech achievers such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, and others are providing billions of dollars for age-related disease eradication efforts. Google Calico targets significant funds for anti-aging research. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and PayPal co-founder and tech investor Peter Thiel have put money into Unity Biotech, which seeks to “slow or reverse age-associated diseases.” Thiel also funded the Methuselah Foundation, which supports regenerative medical therapies with the goal to “make 90 the new 50 by 2030,” and its spinoff SENS Foundation, which does hands-on research. The latter is headed by chief science officer and co-founder of both groups, Aubrey de Grey, who has broken down the various factors associated with aging and is developing the strategies to deal with each.
Aging occurs when the telomeres on the ends of chromosomes become shorter each time cells reproduce, eventually disappearing, stopping cell reproduction and causing us to die. In April 2018, researchers announced they had sequenced the enzyme telomerase, which repairs the telomeres, meaning researchers can now seek ways to utilize this enzyme to literally stop aging.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil argues that by 2045, through genetic engineering, nanotech, and computer-brain interfaces, humans might well overcome “limitations of our biological bodies and brain.”
And, of course, now that we know the pandemic enemy, anti-aging efforts put us in a strong position to head off the next one.
In a post-COVID-19 world, we need to reject the pessimism and defeatism of Emanuel that could inform a President Biden. We should welcome a golden age in which exponential technologies could extend both life and health. This is not “right wing” or “left wing.” This is “up wing!”
Edward Hudgins, Ph.D., is a senior scholar at The Heartland Institute and expert on technology policy. He can be reached at [email protected].