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What Old Age Has to Offer

In a much-discussed Atlantic essay, “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” Ezekiel Emanuel—physician, public commentator, and prominent supporter of the Affordable Care Act—argues that we’d all be better off if we died at 75. That way, we would escape the debility and indignity that accompany old age and avoid being burdens to our children and other loved ones. And we would have the solace of not outliving our productivity. After all, he writes, “by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us.” Emanuel has no plan to commit suicide if he reaches 75, he says. But he plans to reject all medical treatments, even routine ones, that go beyond the palliative. Continue Reading »

How to Avoid Death Panels

It shows the level of suspicion people have for government and the health care system that many of us distrust paying doctors to engage in end-of-life discussions. Indeed, during the run-up to the passage of Obamacare, Sarah Palin labeled a never-passed provision to pay doctors for such conversations, “death panels.” That political sound bite struck such a powerful chord that it quickly entered the lexicon. Continue Reading »

Death, Again

Another intrusive death is rising in my life, and not just my own. He was a vigorous seventy-eight-year-old until last November. Then he experienced a fall, and another, and swiftly lost his motor skills. In the space of just a few weeks he quickly went from cane to walker to wheelchair to bed. Continue Reading »

A Tale of Different Funerals

There’s a great old Twilight Zone episode (“Elegy”) in which future astronauts crash land on an asteroid that seems very much like earth. They look for help in a town—only to find all the people frozen in different tableaus: an unattractive woman winning a beauty contest, a man celebrating his election as mayor, etc. Continue Reading »

The Serpent Bites the Dust

The sequence of three speeches of God in Genesis 3:14-19 (to the serpent, the woman, and the man) illustrates biblical justice, which is to say a justice that does more than punish ; it sets things right and corrects what is wrong. The sequence begins with the only curse God directs at a living . . . . Continue Reading »

A Complete Life

John Hall Wheelock, a minor twentieth-century poet—dubbed “the last romantic” in the title of his oral autobiography—captured movingly some of the reasons we desire more life, our sense (nevertheless) that a complete human life cannot mean an indefinitely extended one, and the . . . . Continue Reading »

The Secret of the Self

Consider the obituary column in your local newspaper—not the obituary of anyone famous but just an ordinary obituary of an ordinary person from an ordinary place. Consider it first as a surviving family member or friend, the one who has to gather the information for the obituary and select . . . . Continue Reading »

Born Toward Dying

We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well. Most of us are at ease in discussing what makes for a good life, . . . . Continue Reading »

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