A few years ago, an acquaintance of
mine whom I will refer to as Margo shared with me a disturbing story. She had
taken her healthy, independent 90-year-old aunt to the physician’s. Her aunt,
who was of sound mind and body, had been struggling with mobility due to a
The physician examined the aunt and
agreed that she could probably benefit from a hip replacement, but because of
her age, the message was mostly “Why bother?” Margo was taken aback and
responded with some insistence, “She is quite healthy and would benefit from
this procedure for a better quality of life.”
After some resistance, the physician
agreed, made the proper referrals, and the aunt underwent surgery. Four years
later, although frailer, Margo’s aunt continues to live alone, relying on
minimal help from Margo, and walking a bit slower but independently.
Should Age Matter?
Margo has been a steady advocate for
the older adult in need of a louder voice. Several years earlier, her mother,
in her late 70s at the time, was having issues related to the heart. Medical
tests revealed that Margo’s mother needed quadruple bypass surgery.
Because of her age, the physicians
expressed hesitancy about having her mother undergo such an operation. Margo
pushed for this, and consequently, her mother underwent this complicated
procedure, recovered, and went on to live a better quality of life.
Unfortunately, Margo’s mother died
after succumbing to cancer a couple of years later, but Margo was pleased that
her efforts provided her mother with robust final few years.
The Right to Die Vs. the Right to Live
I decided to write about this because
there seems to be a movement for the right to die more than the right to live.
Being a therapist, I am well aware there has always been a way to die whether
we like it or not.
Some say by legalizing this, more
people can be euthanized with dignity or, putting it more bluntly, commit
suicide. For someone whose parents were given morphine as a way to leave their
earthly lives painlessly, I do not join the chorus of those who wish to pass
the Right to Die laws.
I was ambivalent when the question was
put on the ballot in my state of Massachusetts years ago, but after reading the
language, I voted against it. Sadly, much deception goes on, and I would be
most disheartened if innocents, because of their age, would be sacrificed “for
the greater good.”
We Have Come a Long Way
Medical innovation has come a long way
and appears to answer the calling to provide a higher quality of life. Healthy
living, new medications, and less invasive, life-saving procedures offer older
adults more choices.
Now they can live longer and in a way
unimaginable half a century ago. Sadly, our youth-oriented society continues to
deem people of a certain age obsolete.
More people like Margo are fighting
for the older adults’ right to live, and not just live, but do so with dignity
and grace. There are more organizations such as Sixty and Me, which
recognize the needs of the sexagenarian and older. Although 60 is not precisely
the new 40, in many ways, it is in the 21st century.
At one time, over the hill was deemed
to be the age of 40. Eventually, the magic number for being washed-up increased
to 60. Because of the Boomer generation, this message is changing every day,
right before our eyes. I suspect the Gen X population will push this to age 75
Many years ago, my husband and I were
in the Berkshires. We were talking with an older couple, and I will never
forget something the gentleman stated. He had prostate cancer in the early
years of being a septuagenarian. His doctor said to him that maybe he should
forgo treatment because of his advanced age.
The man was clear with his doctor that
he wanted to do what was necessary to continue living an otherwise healthy
life. As was evidenced, the man was alive and well as he shared his tale. I
applauded him. With zest, I exclaimed, “Good for you!”
Whatever one’s age, they should have
the option to live their lives as fulfilling as possible. If that means having
a procedure that improves and thus extends their life, I say, “Why not?” The
right to live is their right.
What do you think about the right to
die? Would you fight your own right to live? Would you undergo a surgical
procedure to improve your quality of life? Please share your thoughts with our