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Who wants to live forever? The social care crisis can't be fixed with more money

Death used to be an expression of triumph (Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

Death used to be an expression of triumph (Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)


September 9, 2021   4 mins

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, life expectancy in the West has risen roughly three months per year. In 1900, a new-born child in the US would, on average, live to 47. Now it is about 79; by the end of the century, it will be 100.

Some will call this progress — in sanitation, diet, medicine — as if more is always better. But the cost of this “progress” is rarely factored in.

ÂŁ12 billion every year is the latest pledge to fix health and social care, mostly for the elderly. But what are we doing with all these extra years?

It depends, of course. Some will work longer; some will have more time with their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Others will be warehoused in care homes, living out their twilight years amid the background smell of stale urine, bored ridged between monthly visits from their guilty children. Many are not like this, but a great deal of them still are. My mother has made us promise we will take her to Dignitas long before it comes to this — and that when we bring her ashes back from Switzerland it will be in a Harrods bag, not a Tesco one. This, apparently, is dignity in dying.

Social care has come a long way since it was conceived in alms houses provided by the church: through Victorian workhouses, state-funded provision in the twentieth century and, more recently, to profit-making private companies. As our population gets older, so the need for such services grows ever larger. It is commendable that the Government is seeking to address the growing cost of social care, albeit through a tax levy that falls disproportionately on the working poor and the young. But the one thing that we are not talking about — and our silence is becoming ruinously expensive — is what a good life, and indeed a good death, looks like.

To put it another way, without a sense of what human life is for, and what its basic natural or even theological rhythms might be, we fall back on the idea that more is always better. Without some sort of agreed understanding that human life exists within fundamental limits, society will inevitably find itself unsustainable.

The idea of growth, of always seeking more, is built into the very nature of capitalism, as it is within liberal progressivism. In a secular society, meaning tends to get replaced by the idea of more; or rather, more becomes the meaning.

It is not a coincidence that just as we are pouring billions into end-of-life care, the fantastically wealthy are seeking their own way of outwitting ageing and death. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is now throwing his fortune at some comically ludicrous “eternal life” start-up that seeks to keep him alive forever. “Man plans, God laughs”, as the old Jewish proverb puts it. It’s not just that Bezos can’t succeed in this ridiculous vanity project, but that we shouldn’t want him too. Death, after all, gives life its purpose.

The philosopher Martha Nussbaum once asked why it was that the immortal Greek gods would often fall in love with mortal human beings; Calypso with Odysseus, for instance. Her insightful response was that those who can die are capable of things that immortals are not. They are, for example, capable of courage, of risking everything for others on the battlefield in a way that immortals cannot. Indeed, the very possibility of love itself is bound up with the ability to sacrifice oneself for another. A life without the possibility of death becomes some sort of meaningless extension of mere existence — the unbearable lightness of being.

This means that there is no way of solving the social care crisis in purely economic terms. Because one cannot address a metaphysical question through economic policy. Indeed, the very basic question of what human life is for is one that politicians, still less economists, no longer feel they have any use for.

The first stage to recover a basic metaphysical scaffolding would be to reclaim something of that story in which death has some sort of wider significance, rather than being viewed as just some anticlimactic end. Because if having more — going on longer — is the meaning of life in a secular society, then death is inevitably and always some sort of failure. Whereas we would once have said of the dead that they have passed into glory, we now hear the medics apologise that “there was nothing that we could do”. Death was once — potentially, at least — an expression of some ultimate triumph. Now it is the bitter failure of our technology. And whatever we spend on it, no amount of money will overcome this gap.

Death, then, is the political issue we are not talking about. Even after the pandemic, when the daily death figures were broadcast on every news broadcast, we continue to say little about death other than making the uncritical assumption it is always to be avoided.

And so we are sleepwalking into a state of affairs in which the young will resent the elderly for the burden they place upon them. Of course, we should support the generous funding for social care. What we ought to be challenging is whether the medical technologies that are keeping us alive for ever longer complement our understanding of what human existence is for.

But I see little appetite for that. In a secular society, we have few intellectual or cultural resources to challenge the pervasiveness of more-ism. And to live deeper, more meaningful lives is not the same as living longer ones.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

If you’re afraid of death, you’re probably afraid of life. Don’t believe me? Look around at the way we’ve been living for the past eighteen months, and all over a bug our immune system would have dealt with by now had it been let.

Barry Stokes
Barry Stokes
2 years ago

Not if you have a seriously weakened or even non-existent immune system. Proof of your science please.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
2 years ago
Reply to  Barry Stokes

Most of us have an ok immune system, especially if we look after it ( where was advice on vitamins and minimising stress amid the hands face space stuff?). I’m glad people who are vulnerable can get a vaccine that gives some protection but after SEVEN reminders to get a vaccine I had Covid very mildly and now have natural immunity which according to a paper recently released is up to 13x more effective than vaccine induced.
My friends 97 year old mother decided to stop eating and died a couple of weeks later, but tested positive…another “Covid death” for the stats. There is something fishy going on.

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
2 years ago
Reply to  Barry Stokes

How long will you live with a non-existent immune system, covid or no covid?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Barry Stokes

The official WHO stats on the risk of dying once infected is .26% (.05% if you are younger than 70). If your immune system is compromised you isolate and take precautions as best you can. Society cannot shut down.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

I an absolutely disgusted that the young and middle aged have been forced to give up vast parts of their life, and have their futures damaged, to potentially add a couple years to the old and frail who get covid.

I take care of 3 people who are not really able to handle the world very well, and that is the only reason I worry about my own survival – still I refuse the vax on principal. I would never expect younger people to give up any of their future for my people, we are elderly. When deaths claims us, well then it is time, we have had our lives, and we older people have zero reason for others who are not family to sacrifice their futures to lower our risk.

I always remember the Rider Haggard song of the warriors ready to face death:

“Then from a far point of the circle a
solitary voice began a wailing song, of which the refrain ran
something as follows:–

/What is the lot of man born of woman?/”

Back came the answer rolling out from every throat in that vast
company–

“/Death!/””

You can face it resolutely, or cravenly, and our society is utterly craven.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

Oh, no, please God! Can’t people on here ever on here stop dragging in the current culture war / covid controversy to almost any conceivable topic? Apart from anything else it gets pretty boring when you have read the same views a hundred times.

Giles Fraser is a very thoughtful religious and philosophical commentator; I don’t always agree with him but he deserves better than this. He is talking about a far wider western approach to death that is questionnable. This attitude is actually one issue that on the whole does NOT divide us.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

In 1984 my grandfather died at 82 in his own bed surrounded by his family. He probably had cancer but had refused to go for tests and believed that ‘when your number’s up’, you shouldn’t fight it. Stubborn, stoic old countryman that he was, he wouldn’t see a doctor and took no painkillers apart from over the counter paracetamol.
Ten years later my grandmother, who had developed dementia almost immediately after his death from intense grief, finally died of pneumonia at 90 in a care home. For years she had been incontinent and aggressive and barely knew us.
I know which had the better death.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

Your grandfather’s attitude reflects that of my late mother, a countrywoman. Died at 98 years old after deciding she would not seek tests or scans for her symptoms. When she was admitted to hospital, she was furious, asking why she had been put in the ward “full of old people”.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

My mother is 95, and she was tested the day before yesterday when going to the hospital for a routine checkup and has covid – I assume I did too as I felt very weary and exhausted this weekend, but I took my horse Ivermectin (I had covid 2019 March, my mother is double vaccinated and exceedingly tough) and we both are fine now.

Anyway, Like I cared for my father till he died at my house, I will care for my mother in my house till she dies. I am amazed anyone without a younger family to care for does not provide a place for their parents when they get too old to care for themselves. Obviously there are all manner of exceptions, but for the most part. But then I am the only one I know who will keep parents till they die in the house – it used to be the norm, but I guess not now.

(But then many decades ago I once took a college program and became a licensed nurses aid, and cared for people at end of life. I thought it would be a good way to put my self through university, but found out it is not for me as a job – I went into construction next – but it was indeed a life long benefit I had gained, it taught me to be calm in emergency, and to not be afraid of biological issues.)

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Your mother is fortunate, but then she raised you. The notion of quiet heroism, as embodied in home care, has become foreign to our current crop of young people in the Western World. But it is only our duty, after all, as we were cared for and protected as infants. It is important for children to see and participate in the continuum of life. It is hideous to be the carer, speaking as one. But it is both an obligation and in a way a privilege. The State, which actively works against nuclear family, seems to want to beggar us in taxes while making life more wretched. There is no personal duty which is better discharged by being outsourced to the tender mercies of gormless bureaucrats.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

I sometimes think that the end goal of life (not the purpose, or meaning, or intermediate goals) is to die a contented death.
A determination by others to keep you alive and deny you a contented death (however you picture that) is cruelty. We put suffering pets down out of kindness after all.
So my suggestion is that (laws require hard lines) anyone over 70 may ask to be helped to die with dignity. I’m in this age range myself… I’ll be quite happy to soldier on for a while helping my grandchild into adulthood but I dread a decline into serious illness and poor health, or the consequences of taking matters into my own hands.

Last edited 2 years ago by AC Harper
Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I fully support your view. When Parliament debated assisted suicide some years ago I read through the entire debate. The attitude of many was shocking.The MPs do not have a right to dictate to us about how we should live our lives. They seem to be obsessed with the elderly being pressured into believing they are a burden which I find ridiculous. They believe children want to kill their parents to inherit their wealth. When we are prevented from making our own choices and are coerced into doing something others think is best, the those people are always the bad guys and there are a lot about today. We need freedom from politicians, but we are heading in the wrong direction.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

The pinnacle of an evolved society is to afford its people the choice to die a dignified death.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I disagree. I believe in Karma. In my long and very weird life I have seen a great deal of things, and in the end I feel one has what amounts to a soul, which is the deep consciousness, self awareness, understanding of morality, And it is coupled with ‘Free Will’.

Thus as one goes about life we make informed decisions all times, we know when we are doing good and harm, and yet we carry on, and thus we take on Karma from our choices.

This is why the Religions of the Book call suicide a sin, we have to live out our karma – as we get on to death we have the chance of redemption. Till we die we can atone, if only in our hearts, and so may pass on with Karma more evened. We may Repent. as it were, but it may only be at the very end, we do not know. To take away the end is not so easy. What if the person could have repented, and come to grips with the wrongs they had done, but we enable them to die before time? What if the suffering is part of ones Karma? Much comes from suffering, it is one of life’s qualities – I do believe it reasonable to end true suffering, but not so sure we have the right to be part of someone dieing early because they are just weary of life. They may make that choice, – but it should be very informed. But we are in very shaky ground when we get involved in it.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Thank you for raising this issue and opening the discussion to matters of a higher and alternative perspective.
But what is happening in our society is that the medical profession (which considers itself the gatekeepers of life and death) are involved in keeping people alive despite their having reached the end of their natural lifespan and being ‘ready to go’. Woe betide a patient who has the temerity to die without the doctor deeming it is acceptable in medical terms.
Politicians are 100% unwilling to challenge this.
I for one find it utterly obnoxious that individuals do not have control over their own passing.
30 Meditations on Death by David Jarrett is a great book on this subject.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Deborah B

Back in the day the do not resuscitate and NPO’s were given ligerally when the end of life patient was not a big money maker and letting the ones go when it was time made sense. The Pharma/Medical Industrial Complex has its own criteria on what life is about, and it is $.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Deborah B

Well said
. I believe in karma, but so often humans are kept alive way beyond their ‘natural’ time of death.

Jane McCarthy
Jane McCarthy
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I agree. We have made so many advances in medicine and medical technologies and they are all aimed at and leveraged at enabling us to live longer. Surely we should also use them to help us to die well, to prevent us declining into suffering.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

Giles, I think you have presented the secular conundrum of the place of death well. I appreciate that the Christian faith does provide a more positive context of hope.
There is no doubt that medical treatments have also produced the conundrum of living longer only to die from degenerative causes. Pneumonia used to be known as the cancer sufferers friend. Treating the pneumonia in a relative with dementia merely resulted in another 5 years of expensive care for someone with no cognition.
It might improve things if Do Not Resuscitate arrangements could be made and recognised more easily. Also making it harder to litigate against medics might help to prevent them feeling obliged to try resuscitation in hopeless situations and even those who have suddenly and peacefully died at home.

Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Pneumonia used to be called the “old man’s friend”. And indeed it was.
Your comment about making it harder to legislate against medics who have to try resuscitation in all circumstances, unless they have been informed that a DNR is in place is worthy of a deeper discussion.
Only last night I was hearing that there is a discussion about the timing of breaths for a collapsed infant. The argument was whether it should be every second or one and a half seconds.
I put it to anyone who has the misfortune to be in that position that the actual timing will not necessarily be the first thing on their minds. What should be on their minds is achieving the return of spontaneous circulation.After that everything else flows*, in my experience.
( *No pun intended)

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

I remember letting the old people die many years ago – basically sort of euthanize. I worked in an old persons home of last resort. Most with no family (and without family you have no advocate in a home, so are last to get anything, this is bad)

It was horrible a place – understaffed, the old people mostly totally dementia. We would get them up (if not actually dieing – then they stayed in bed) and put them into a wheelchair, put on the seat belt so they could not wonder off, and tie one wheel so they would spin in circles – or off they would go…..

Every time they saw you they would cry – Nurse, nurse, but you were busy – the other thing they would say all the time was ‘I Want To Go Home!’ in a very plaintive way, as they had no clue their home was long ago sold or rented to another tenant and they were there till death. Their family dispersed and gone….

So at some point they would turn away from drink, or food, and so we would not feed them, or give water if they did not wish it. We never ‘FORCED DRINK’ – and when they stop drinking they die in a couple days. (Losing interest in drink is the sign it is time… and forcing just keeps it going…)This home got the ones who were last resort, mostly discharged from hospital from some other home, and had no one – this was back in the 1970s USA, and later reforms came about, but it was how it was. It was hellish, but it was not cruel – it was just what the funding and reality was – the workers were hard people, that is all who would do it…

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

I have not thought about DNR orders in the context of a Christian faith. Does Christianity find such orders acceptable?

Milos Bingles
Milos Bingles
2 years ago

You mention Dignitas. How many poor souls are kept alive by medical science? People suffering from mental and physical degeneration slowly dying in pain because of society’s “Christian” sensibilities. I think you’d find more support for a dignified right to die amongst atheists than you would people of faith. Prolonging life against people’s will is cruel.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Milos Bingles

Keeping people alive on drugs is about profit for Big Pharma, and of course the health service benefits by more unhealthy people.

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
2 years ago
Reply to  Milos Bingles

Atheists constantly astound me with their lack of knowledge or understanding of religion. They seem almost frightened of learning anything in case they might be “sucked in”. It is absolutely not a part of Christianity to prolong life beyond where there is anything positive to be got from it. Ours is after all a religion that believes in a future beyond death.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago
Reply to  Milos Bingles

It is not compulsory for Christians to believe the same way that I do, nor would it be compulsory for them to follow a path to euthanasia.
However, many if not most Christians appear to believe that us non-believers should be forced to follow their (in my view) perverted principals that no amount of suffering is sufficient to even consider assisted dying. To an atheist, unending suffering serves no purpose whatsoever.
I do not tell Christians what to do, why cannot they show me the same respect.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

Christians are free to express their beliefs but since we all fail every day to live out those beliefs, we cannot expect non-Christians to behave as Christians.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Milos Bingles

““Christian” sensibilities. I think you’d find more support for a dignified right to die amongst atheists than you would people of faith” Yes, the Stalinist old people’s homes were glorious.

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
2 years ago

Great article, as usual. Many thanks! The increase in our average years of healthy life has lagged behind increases in life expectancy. So medical science has given us MORE years of bad health to live through, including more years of dribbling custard down our cardigans in expensive care homes.

John Deck
John Deck
2 years ago

I have just celebrated my 90th birthday. have lived an interesting, productive, and full life (now professor emeritus at the University of Toronto). On the ResearchGate web site I have a score higher than 95% of all ResearchGate members. I am somewhat socially inept and suspect I am on the fringe of Asperger’s syndrome howeverI am on good terms with my six children and am living with my eldest son and his family. I have travelled widely and among other things have had hobbies of ultralight flying and stone sculpture. I served as church warden and lay reader at an Anglican church. 

I, my family and my friends are unaware that I have suffered any significant mental decline. I keep abreast of current affairs and scientific advances. My memory (recent and remote) is still good, except for more frequent loss of my train of thought. I am aware of and involved in activities going on around me. 

But many of those things that have defined my life are now becoming impossible. I am not sure how much longer my deteriorating body will continue to support my still active mind. 

Since prostate surgery for carcinoma, I have been incontinent, mainly of bladder and occasionally (more disastrously) of bowel. I have episodes of fainting on standing, resulting from partially corrected hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and have a pacemaker for heart block. My arthritic left shoulder pains with almost any arm movement. My shortness of breath, COPD from smoking (and stone sculpting?) and intermittent claudication prevent walking more than a few meters. As the result of compressed intervertebral discs, I have lost 5 inches in height and my rib cage on the right side painfully rubs against my pelvis. My lack of balance will soon require a walker. Hearing loss limits conversation despite the best hearing aids. And loss of taste and smell limit enjoyment of food. I am uncomfortable much of the time with back pain and neck pain since a broken neck. 

While still loved by my family and friends I no longer feel that I achieve much for myself or others. The thought of increasing unavoidable discomfort and decreasing capability is distressing. I wish to have the option to die when I choose. Having such an option would contribute to my peace of mind. I have spoken to many other seniors and find that I am not alone in feeling this way. I have also shared my feelings with my family and friends and, without exception they support my expressed desires. But I do not fulfil the criteria for ‘medically assisted in dying in Canada and I doubt that this situation will change in my lifetime.

Canada’s current law would not allow me to have medical assistance in dying (MAID). Canadian law, enacted in 2016, stipulated that only people whose natural death was reasonably foreseeable could be given such assistance. As a result of a Superior Court of Quebec ruling in 2019, striking down the federal law because provisions in the assisted-dying laws required death to be “reasonably foreseeable” were an infringement of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing the right to life, liberty and security of the person.  

New federal legislation adopted in 2021 still requires that, to qualify for MAID, a person must have a serious illness, disease or disability (excluding a mental illness), be in an advanced state of decline that cannot be reversed, and experience unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be relieved under conditions that the person considers acceptable. I find that the requirement that disease be ‘serious’, that the decline be in an ‘advanced state’, or that the suffering be ‘unbearable’ are still overly restrictive.

I am not depressed although my energy level is low. My wish to have less restrictions to MAID is not because I want to end my life right now, but that I might soon come to that conclusion. If the process of applying for MAID is arduous, I may not have the energy to go through the process.

I have seen numbers of writings on this general subject of dying with reference to the attitudes of family members and health care providers. But seldom from the viewpoint if the aged themselves. The attitudes and preferences of seniors like me are less often heard but are surely relevant to the discussion. This description of my situation and point of view is a first attempt to address this situation.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  John Deck

Thank you for sharing that with us. I live in South Africa, where life is cheap, but assisted suicide is not allowed. There are some medics who will assist by allowing the person access to high doses of morphine when severe pain is experienced, but this is not regulated – nor is it accessible to all. There is no relief for those whose death is not necessarily imminent, but whose quality of life is severely diminished. One can have a Living Will stipulating that there should be no medical intervention in certain circumstances, but again it is not a catch all.
I completely understand your wishes – that you would feel happier and calmer if you felt you had some choices in respect of your passing. I feel the same. For me that indicates the pinnacle of a caring society.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lesley van Reenen
Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago
Reply to  John Deck

Thank you for courageous sharing. Once again, the First Nation people had this figured out, in a land with very cold winters. The agency of an aged person was cherished and respected. I cannot not think allowing nature to place the closing parenthesis is a violation of Christian belief. And it is a kindness, a mitzvah, to spare someone the role of dispatcher, or worse, executioner. State regulation of these matters functions as a kind of false imprisonment. When one finds oneself looking at one’s watch, then time is approaching to leave the party. Who would detain a guest?

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago
Reply to  John Deck

Just fly to Switzerland or Belgium. Don’t concern yourself with foolish religious people or politicians.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  John Deck

Thankyou John for sharing your experience (and see my comment above). My internet savvy son says that he will have zero problem arranging an appropriate injection for me if the time comes for that – and a manner of injecting that to fit in with legalities at the the time. So it seems that the products ARE actually available if we wish to take control of that process rather than have to wait upon the vagaries of our legal-medical systems…..

Mark Reed
Mark Reed
2 years ago

The main problem is retirement. It was devised so as not to flog elderly people in their twilight years, which once meant their 60s, if they were lucky. Our forebears would laugh to see that we now envisage this phase of our life as 30 or more years of paid leisure, a reward for a hard working life. But work is part of life. The only solution will be to work into our 80s, which I certainly intend to do anyway. Actors and scientists seem to do this – the rest of us need to follow.

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Reed

Unhappily there are industries where you can’t do that after a lifetime of service because no one wants the old. Media is one example

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

I asked my late mother, at the age of 101, who wants to live forever? She replied, without a moment’s hesitation, ‘I do!’

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

My great-grandmother died at the age of 104 in 1974. She lived at home with a housekeeper and a companion but needed no special care. One lunchtime she said to her 76-year-old daughter who was visiting, “You know Alice, I think I am tired of living”. She then went for her afternoon nap and didn’t wake up. The other side of the coin.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

I have known many such, who just know when to “turn their faces to the wall”. To do so in in your own bed is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Andrew Crisp
Andrew Crisp
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

Wow! That’s the way to go.

You are not your body. The body has a limited “shelf life”, it wears out, it dies and the YOU gets a new one. You will come back, that’s why it’s important to do one’s best to make this a better world to come back to.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Crisp
A S
A S
2 years ago

This is one of my favorite articles: https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/379329/

We are not an immortal species. My father died in hospital in 2019. In India, when a person gets “detained” (or shall I say incarcerated) to ICU and gets put on a ventilator, by law, they won’t be released until they die or can get off the vent. So my father spent his last 10 days (terminal kidney disease) tied (literally, so he would stop trying to pull the ventilator out) to a hospital bed on a ventilator with one family member at a time allowed in 15 minutes am and pm. This was pre-COVID by the way. There was no way he would have survived or at least not without horrible quality of life and suffering. Worse still, he had a lucid day – where dying people suddenly are alert and better .. and we STILL were not permitted spend that time with him or be allowed to discharge him. So rather than spending his last hours surrounded by family in the comfort of his home, he was “gifted” an extra 9 days to live live a prisoner in solitary confinement. The memory will haunt me my entire life. This was NOT a good and peaceful death. The inability to accept the inevitable has made us mad.

Last edited 2 years ago by A S
Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
2 years ago

Wokeism offers a real alternative to religion: it’s judgemental, divisive, and allergic to questioning minds. Maybe the Woke have got a plan for death.

David D'Andrea
David D'Andrea
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Stonor

Plan: Cheat death by uploading mind to the cloud, live in an intersectional demi-monde forever

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
2 years ago

This article perfectly sums up my sentiments . Thank you Giles. I feel it is healthy to think of your death in a positive fashion & regularly. It has made me calmer and stronger. Since no one knows what’s out there after life, there is no point being scared of it. It might even be better. So I work on the assumption that it will be better.

What worries me here and now is that we will have a mixture of totally risk averse youngsters in the future . And incredibly angry at what we have done to them. We have been giving them MIXED MESSAGES and screwed up with their heads. They don’t know whether to be safe or be brave, or be fearful or be bold, or should they lock us up in a dungeon individually so that we can’t infect each other( as they may take this message from this experience) or be caring towards their elderly.

Since these lockdowns,I have no trust in the scientists & many medical professionals , I have no faith in our politicians , no hope in our education system and I am a grown individual. I pity our children who will live with the consequences but I know they will do better as I feel we had hit rock bottom & can’t imagine what a worse outcome in free world could be?

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago

Actually, there is a counter argument to lifespans gradually increasing.
The average age of death plateaued in the USA in the year 2014 and has been declining ever since. Whilst it is true that the UN has projected that life expectancy will rise to 100 by 2060 (for developed nations) they make some rather rash assumptions for getting to that figure.
Morbid obesity is one very good reason why the age of death will continue to decline over the coming years rather than rise to the UN target.
Also, the UN target relies heavily on the future development of new technologies that will increase life spans. However, even if these technologies do become available, they will likely not be in the price range that would benefit the average person and will thus have only a minimal effect on the average lifespan.

Last edited 2 years ago by D Hockley
Earl King
Earl King
2 years ago

I am often called to the human warehouses we call Nursing Homes, Assisted Living facilities. The economic and social costs of “Gods waiting rooms” will bury us. The economic costs are enormous. My 96 year old mother wants to die in her bed at her home. She has long passed the age she can take care of herself and yet has no medical issues that will kill her. She can no longer walk unassisted. She takes very little medication but basically exists in her bedroom with the assistance of a live in helper. The cost is running about $9200 a month. A nursing homes in NJ runs about $13,000 a month. Assisted living can easily run $7000 a month. In order to have Medicaid pay for your living costs in State run homes you cannot have assets worth more than about $27,000. The social costs are many but more invisible. We warehouse these people so we don’t have to deal with them. In the West we ignore our elders. We have no use for them anymore. Families cannot do the nursing some need and it is disruptive to have and elder in house that needs assistance. In addition the elderly do not want to be a burden and they really hate to lose their independence. We have not solved it….but spending a fortune just to keep someone in a nursing home with no life…is not an answer either.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Earl King

How does your mother cope when the live in helper/s are sick?

Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
2 years ago

Thanks Giles, a timely, thought provoking article.

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago

And to live deeper, more meaningful lives is not the same as living longer ones”
That is the key to the whole issue. Apart from having made eye-watering sums of money by trading on the worst aspects of rampant consumerism and human acquisitiveness, can anyone say that the life of Jeff Bezos for example, has been “meaningful”? One also needs to ask: why is he so afraid of death? Perhaps, in spite of our increasingly secular society, we all have a deep, primaeval knowledge that we will indeed ultimately have to answer to a higher power.

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
2 years ago

I have a few quibbles with the article. The rise in life expectancy from 47 to 80s across the last century was not primarily due to adult individuals living longer, but to the dramatic fall in infant mortality and to the fact there were no world wars or pandemics in the latter part of the century. But his basic argument is true. We do need a “point”. IMHO we have abandoned Christianity at our peril, rather than taking what of value it offers and evolving the religion as we have always done before. But it’s not just life expectancy and death we need to be thinking about. As important is the whole question of how and by whom the frail elderly are cared for. There was a useful lesson in Lockdown 1, had we cared to learn it. Thousands of us learned to fit work and family around one another in new ways. That should have continued and been the basis for a whole new appraisal of the “work/life balance”, with new policies about how we work. Instead, sadly, we are now abandoning WFH in a rush back to the “office”.
Family is the core of everything. Not work. Family is the guardian of the transfer of precious life from one generation to the next. Our primary duty is to care for our children and our elderly, as we were cared for ourselves. We should not be sticking our parents and grandparents in state funded “death farms”. I am profoundly depressed by the new policy. The quality of any care funded by the state will always be worse than what we pay for ourselves and we will have no control over any of it. Besides which, a policy that prioritises middle class children’s right to inherit houses over their duties, financial, emotional and social, to their own parents is an obscenity.

Laura Pritchard
Laura Pritchard
2 years ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

Ha, your first point is exactly the same as mine. Regarding work/life balance and looking after the elderly ourselves, I humbly suggest your point of view may be coming from a certain place of privilege. To care for an elderly person at home needs, at the very least, someone available (let alone capable) to do it full time – this is not compatible with many households where all the adults need to work and even if an adult has chosen to work from home, doing two full time jobs at home is by no means a sustainable position. Even the choice to work from home to improve one’s life/work balance is something that comes with a certain level of privilege (I use this word lightly by the way, in terms of having choices). Finally, it might be interesting to look at who is getting what care, how and why before lumping everyone in a care home into some heinous government policy. For example, one might find that many people in this position are those without any family, or living in a private home until all their money has gone and then moving to an underfunded state home.

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

Quite. My partner and I have agreed we do not want to see each other in the dire straits of nappy changing etc and wasting what remains of our lives in resentful misery, which is what sentimental religious fools would selfishly saddle their children with.

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

In many ways I found this a juvenile piece. I recall my class having to write on a similar topic in University when I was 18, some of the essays by my contemporaries were brilliant and echo in my mind to day. This offering is almost worthless in that it brings up nothing new and is devoid of solution e.g the line,
and that when we bring her ashes back from Switzerland it will be in a Harrods bag, not a Tesco one. This, apparently, is dignity in dying”,
is not worthy of a fourth former.
The old saying that a society is judged on how it treats its elderly still holds true, we should never forget that because who in the end judges who is a waste of time and resources?
And so we are sleepwalking into a state of affairs in which the young will resent the elderly for the burden they place upon them”..
Geewhizz, its this line above all else in the I find concerning from a Rector. If the young do resent the old for such then there are many other things, way upstream, in our society that are going wrong,
If you want to know what value there is in growing very old ?…picture my mother surrounded by her three children, six grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Her mind was sharp as a tick, her body failing yes. But all those children recall that day and its value to our family was immeasurable in so many ways and lives on.
“Do not go gentle into that good night”

Laura Pritchard
Laura Pritchard
2 years ago
Reply to  hugh bennett

Very nuanced thoughts but I still think the important thing is that we talk about the subject, don’t you?

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

I respect what you say. But i thought i had 1. granted, expressed my view on a pretty dire piece of writing ( in my opinion), and 2. set out some thoughts on the subject, perhaps too nuanced… I could have just said it was cr-p.
I do reserve the right to express a view on the quality of the writing that appears on Unherd…
( much is hyperbole lately and attempting to be intellectualised for the sake of it by writers who are not always properly qualified),
…otherwise we are just like a row of clapping seals being thrown fish ?

David Lewis
David Lewis
2 years ago

Nearly all of my octogenarian patients told me they didn’t want to live into decrepit old age, but none of them wanted to die tomorrow.

Alan T
Alan T
2 years ago

The catholic thinker Ivan Illich critiqued our obsession with the preservation of life as a form of idolatry. The increasingly extreme responses to Covid around the world show just how far we are prepared to go in this ultimately vain and ungodly pursuit.

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

Twenty years ago a neighbour, a busy man, always on the go, about 75, just dropped dead while mowing the lawn. Way to go I say. The day I get cancer or some fatal deteriorating illness is the day I refuse treatment bar morphine. I am sure in years to come that history shows we kept dementia and terminally ill patients alive in the dire conditions we see today will be viewed with horror.

Mel Bass
Mel Bass
2 years ago
Reply to  Zorro Tomorrow

So true. I used to discuss this with the Marie Curie nurses who came to sit with my dying mother and all favoured a swift end over a protracted, painful terminal decline, even if it was unexpected.My parents both died in agony (cancer and ALS), and palliative treatments only go so far (unless, like my father, the quacks take pity on you and give you an overdose of morphine to finish you off). As for dementia, my elderly neighbour is a classic case. She came to me earlier today, very distressed because her house had been burgled… Or so she believed, but it’s just one of her regular daily delusions. The paranoia and memory loss are pitiful, but she’s also not eating and soils herself. Social services are dragging their feet, but if/when she is taken into some care-home gulag, I daresay they’ll drug her to the hilt to keep her quiet. None of those options are for me. I hope (many years in the future!) to go like your lawnmower chap, or my own grandfather, who got up from the dinner table one evening and promptly dropped dead, but barring that easy outcome, I have a plan for one last ‘good’ day and then a goodbye. No, I won’t change my mind, either, as one patronising twerp told me, claiming to know my mind better than I do myself!

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
2 years ago

I always go to the deaths in our local paper (my dad was an undertaker) and take note of where people died. If it’s ‘at home’ I’m happy for them, sad when it’s ‘in hospital’, especially if that person was elderly. My dad built our house and most of his 10 children were born in it. Dad, mum and my older, disabled brother died peacefully here, mum at 90 and dad, only 58, from a brain tumour. People panic and call an ambulance, but a good GP will prescribe pain relief and arrange district nurses if required. It helps if one of the offspring is a GP of course. But dying in your own bed, surrounded by family, rather than in hospital, surrounded by strangers, is infinitely preferable. When my dad died at 5 in the morning, the GP and priest both attended – I doubt that’s been happening much in the recent past. It doesn’t bear thinking about the lonely deaths, experienced by so many elderly in the last 18 months, surrounded as they were by masked aliens. I have been very thankful that none of our family has had to spend any time on a hospital ward of late. And I pray to God none of us ever ends up ‘in care’.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

Since the NHS was created billions of pounds have gone into prolonging lifespans of our population. Originally, the idea was to conquer nasty diseases and that slowly morphed into improved surgical techniques drugs to keep people alive after the surgery. Today, if an 80-year old person has cancer, a combination of surgery and drugs might keep that person alive for another 5 years – that would be a ‘positive’ result. I would guess that 60% or more of the NHS resources goes into this idea.
Covid seems to have changed this plan. I have read many times on UnHerd that the people dying from Covid are old and would die anyway; people hide behind the concept of ‘excess deaths’ to justify morally that it is OK for people to die from Covid. We are now discussing the idea that the continued existence of old people is a burden on the young.
Why not ban all people over 80 from using the NHS facilities? Why not state openly that people should not be allowed to live after 80 years because they are just in the way of progress? Why not exterminate people at 80 years to allow us to concentrate our resources on the young?
This concept would not gather public support at the moment. Maybe those of us in our 60s could help to gather momentum for this plan in the future. The problem is that when we get to 80 the plan would not look quite so interesting.
I

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’d have thought Captain Tom changed our minds on that, Chris?

John K
John K
2 years ago

To look at it another way, the NHS or any other health system or individual doctor has never saved anyone’s life.
What they have done is postponed their death.
Although more and more people are living to 100, many of them in decent health, life drops off alarmingly after then: there are currently only about 150 or so people in the whole world provably over 110 years of age, and only one person (yes one person ever) has been proved to have lived to 120.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

The one word missing from this article is “family”. Hardly surprising since since the church seems to have thrown out all its traditional beliefs about what makes a family and the support they provide. The state has encouraged the breakdown of traditional families, one of the many aims of the Frankfurt School. The slow march of socialism is destroying our freedoms and the support we used to provide for each other. It is being done under the umbrella of democracy, where we exchange freedom for more state support and control. We have been warned about democracy for millennia starting with the Greek philosophers.

Andrew Daws
Andrew Daws
2 years ago

I don’t see what you’re suggesting. Yes, it does seem pointless prolonging life for its own sake, but are you suggesting that we should all join Dignitas rather than declining in a care home? Apart from anything else, it’s not that simple. Dignitas will not assist you unless you have medical proof that you have less than six months to live. A friend of mine in his 70s was deeply depressed and in great pain, so he applied to Dignitas and they refused his request.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Daws

Don’t worry. Once you start contemplating these things you are always on the slippery slope. They’re already euthanizing children in Belgium and are currently debating whether to extend it to healthy people who merely consider their lives “complete”.

As an aside, and as as someone who, for the first five decades of his life, always stood resolutely on the left of the political spectrum (thankfully, finally cured), I do wonder why the taxpayer should be tapped to pay for these supposed “rights” like euthanasia and abortion. I allegedly have the right to free speech — anyone want to buy me a newspaper group to propound it? In truth, I have found the more “rights” the left deliver us, the more constricted my life has become.

Andrew Daws
Andrew Daws
2 years ago

You’re not answering my question. Do you think we should all volunteer ourselves for the abattoir?

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Daws

Definitely not, Andrew. Liz Carr the disabled actress makes her case against it, having visited countries where it is legal:
https://www.lifeissues.net/writers/carrl/carrl_01againsteuthanasia.html

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Daws

Shouldn’t it be a personal choice?

Dawn McD
Dawn McD
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Yes, it should. I wrote my senior paper in 2008 on the assisted suicide “Death with Dignity” law in Oregon, and I won’t dig it out now to get the exact numbers but I remember the most important points. Terminally ill people are terrified of being trapped in a state of horrifying pain and loss of control, and having access to the prescription to end their own lives gives then a sense of agency and personal control that helps them to cope. A very small percentage of people who fill the prescription ever use it; they just need to know that they can. They also find out that Hospice does a fantastic job helping people die, managing their anxiety and pain. The law works, and it should be a choice available to everyone who is in an impossible situation.

Robert Kaye
Robert Kaye
2 years ago

“I do wonder why the taxpayer should be tapped to pay for these supposed “rights” like euthanasia and abortion.”

I suspect the state happily pays for the latter and would equally fund the former because while it continues to fund health, education and social care, they save more than they cost.

Last edited 2 years ago by Robert Kaye
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Daws

Yes. And maybe Dignitas needs a bit of competition

Hennie Booysen
Hennie Booysen
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Daws

The author is not suggesting anything or taking a particular stance as I see it, but rather stating that death and prolonged life is a subject we should be talking about

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago
Reply to  Hennie Booysen

yep a waste of print

Arild Brock
Arild Brock
2 years ago

I agree with the author.
To make death banal I believe is also an aspect of the general trend. The undertakers’ advertisements tell you how you can design your own funeral, including playing a cheerful, last tune to your audience. Death is no more dramatic than reaching a train’s end station. Banal death, banal life.

Last edited 2 years ago by Arild Brock
Mark Vernon
Mark Vernon
2 years ago

Psychoanalysis ain’t perfect but one of its good ideas is coming to know how death accompanies life, as opposed to just bringing it to an end. Others die, and every day does too, alongside all that’s transient.

What’s surprising is that this can become not just a practice of reconciling to mortality but, precisely by living with death, an awakening to what timelessly lasts.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Vernon

The Sioux people for millenia, from childhood on, were taught to greet each new day with “Ho-ka-he!” (translation: Today is a good day to die!) Living in the present moment, with all accounts balanced and lining out day by day, is perhaps not so primitive after all. (“Tomorrow I shall build a bigger barn” is the other approach, but that implies bondage to time) I think with age comes a greater appreciation of freedom, and it isn’t inappropriate to aspire, at a certain age, to be set free from age’s infirmities.

Last edited 2 years ago by Liz Walsh
James Finnemore
James Finnemore
2 years ago

In a few years we probably live in a society which encourages euthanasia because of the cost to the taxpayers or families of looking after the frail and vulnerable.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
2 years ago

‘It is not a coincidence that just as we are pouring billions into end-of-life care, the fantastically wealthy are seeking their own way of outwitting ageing and death.’ Of course it’s a coincidence. People have been trying to ‘outwit ageing and death’ for centuries; Bezos’ scheme is nothing new. There’s nothing ‘political’ about death, nor is postponing it anything to do with ‘capitalism’. ‘Death, after all, gives life its purpose.’ As at Bataclan, Giles?

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

When I read Giles I confess I am tempted to religion.

Trouble is I’d want decent hymns, ideally Welsh ones.

7d9xzkfx87
7d9xzkfx87
2 years ago

In pre western Innuit society, an Elder who determined they were more of a burden to the community than a contributor, would take a long walk into the frozen world and not return. I read that in a book, and I hope it is true. There is no corollary in our modern society, as money intermediates through time, but one thing has always seemed obvious to be: suicide should be legal. My life belongs to me, not the State, or society as a whole. The chosen ending of a well-lived life should be celebrated.

Dawn McD
Dawn McD
2 years ago
Reply to  7d9xzkfx87

If you decide to do that, please have the decency to give the people who love you a proper good-bye. My husband’s brother disappeared about a decade ago, probably with a recurrence of a previous melanoma, to die a “manly” cowboy’s death alone on a mountain somewhere (or some such), lying to my husband about moving and “I’ll get in touch with you when I get settled.” It was a mean thing to do, and cowardly. Let people say good-bye before you walk into the frozen world.

Laura Pritchard
Laura Pritchard
2 years ago

I generally agree with the sentiment in this article but I have one bugbear and one additional point.
The bugbear is something Mr Chivers might have something to say about and that is the use of average life expectancy numbers. The average life expectancy in the past wasn’t low because none of us lived to a grand old age. It was because so many babies and children died under the age of 5. And then you could probably add in women dying from childbirth etc etc. I have numerous ancestors who lived into their 80’s and the more interesting question might be to compare how they were looked after and what their quality of life was to that of today. There is also the question of ‘surviving’ youth. The ONS has a very interesting data tool that allows you to map how your life expectancy goes up every year you don’t die!
Regarding the motivation for living longer rather than choosing a quality death, the article doesn’t mention the minefield that is eugenics. Or even more simply the dilemma of being the one who says a life has come to an end and that is OK.I think it is perfectly understandable to fear that one might get this wrong. With reference to surviving youth, the tragic numbers of young people who commit suicide is part of that picture. There could be an argument made that a suicide death is made by someone with free will to end their life but it’s generally considered not to be the case and those that survive suicide attempts largely (but not 100%) are thankful for the extra life they experience. I don’t wish to take this subject lightly and I am not an expert so I trust what I write is not offensive to anyone. I can only give another example.
Two years ago I was talking with a man who was absolutely distraught that his brother wanted a feeding tube put into his mother to keep her alive. This woman, as described by him, had no life due to dementia. His brother felt the opposite. A 50/50 split. The medical profession (in Italy) was on his brother’s side. I don’t know if their position is due to fear of litigation, a medical code that sees any life as more important than quality of life or just fear of being the one to make the decision. The point is surely you can’t just look at the choices we make about lengthening our lives without also consider the fears we have about shortening it?
PS my advice was for him to find someone to advocate for his mother. I explained that they might make an argument on her behalf that was different from that which he wanted but that wasn’t the point. The two men were both seeing the situation from their (mainly emotional but also financial) needs and not from the human being at the centre of it all.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Everyone needs to have a living will spelling out exactly what interventions they want. I certainly do.

Miriam UĂ­
Miriam UĂ­
2 years ago

Yes, reading about Jeff Bezos’ plan for eternal life yesterday made me think, ‘Is this what we become when we ditch God?’ Slaves to the fear of death, when Christ promises eternal life to anyone who turns to him in faith? My agnostic father-in-law turned to God in his last days, and so we hope, died a good death at peace with God, ready to enter eternal glory, where ‘death has no sting’. Even if we are sad and say with Maya Angelou: “I find it very difficult to let a friend or beloved go into that country of no return. I answer the heroic question, “Death, where is thy sting?” with “It is here in my heart, and my mind, and my memories.”

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago
Reply to  Miriam UĂ­

There is no god. No heaven. You are an animal, high up on the food chain but that’s it.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 years ago

FOD fear of death. Most people have avoided thinking about the most inevitable stage of life and hang on fearfully rather than embracing it creatively and celebratively. At the first stage of dementia I am gonna have a few small ‘parties’ then head towards Chile in my small sailboat with lots of single malt whiskey and a gas cooker that burns oxygen in the cabin – or if I cant get that together, my son has agreed to get together the ‘blue injection’. I am pretty sure the next stage of existence is a kind of pleasant limbo where we review and plan our next experience “down here’ and nothing to really get our knickers in a twist over – unless we have to intense relive any nastiness we have caused……..