I’m a 55-year-old who has lived a good life in contemporary America. I was born into an era when prosperity was pretty much a given for me and my cohorts. I was middle-class and male and white (still am). I’ve enjoyed all the modern conveniences and social conventions made possible by decades of innovation, creativity and a certain social cohesion. Having spent most of my years in the American Century, it’s hard to imagine having lucked into a better era of world history.
But as I’ve watched the health care debate unfold this summer, I’ve felt increasingly guilty about the resources I’ve used and, more importantly, will use in my final thirty or forty or, God forbid, fifty years. We’ve heard how end-of-life care is eating up a tremendous percentage of our national health budget, and yielding very little quality in return. Those of us in our final trimester are going to cost a fortune to maintain and, personally, I don’t think I’m worth it.
That’s why I’m promising publicly to ending my own life no later than my seventieth birthday on November 6, 2023.
As I look at that previous paragraph sitting starkly in front of me, I must admit it’s a little scary. Knowing the exact day of your death is not the most soothing feeling. Few of us contemplate when and where the end will come, but we like to carry a vague notion that it’s way out there in the distance, certainly nothing to worry about any time soon.
In another sense, though, it’s very comforting. I don’t want to spend my last weeks connected to life-sustaining machinery, toxic drugs flowing through my veins and visions of terror flowing through my mind, no matter how many loved ones are compelled to surround me. I plan to live life to its fullest up to and including that final moment, when I plunge from a cliff over a rocky Pacific shore and get swept out to sea.
Don’t want to inconvenience anyone by making them clean up after me.
By foregoing the expenses of heavily assisted living, and getting just a relatively few of my fellow Baby Boomers to join me, we should be able to free up enough funding in the national treasury to sustain those who follow us. My generation has done a number of things to improve the human condition — supporting civil rights, fostering greater tolerance, going to Woodstock — but it’s not like won a world war or anything. On balance, I’m pretty sure we’re taking more out of society than we’re putting in.
When we lament issues like the national debt and the tremendous repayment burden we’re laying on our children and grandchildren, we rarely consider that’s there something concrete we can do about it. If enough of my fellow fifty- and sixty-somethings can commit here and now to a promise that we’ll make a graceful exit when our most productive years are through, the savings could be enough give today’s young people a reasonable hope that they’ll enjoy a prosperity equivalent to ours.
The initiative I’m proposing is completely voluntary. There will be no death panels. There will be no government sponsorship or endorsement. There may be a perceived obligation to do right by our kids, but what’s wrong with that? We can even “sweeten the pot,” as it were, finding a way to incentivize enrollment by offering to make that final year one to remember. A free Mediterranean cruise, DVDs of those movies we always meant to watch, and a stash of recreational drugs would ease the pangs of early exit, and cost a whole lot less than aggressive cancer treatments.
Even more appealing to me is reducing the burden on all those vital young lives that haven’t had the chance to grow into fullness. I’m writing this piece in a grocery store café not far from my house, and watching with a smile as I see young children scurrying underfoot, college students stocking up for a Saturday night party, and young couples selecting the ingredients for a romantic dinner. It’s not a pleasant thought that they look across the aisle at this grey head of mine and see the husk of a productive member of the nation. I’d feel so much less guilty if instead they were looking at someone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for them.
There’s nothing magic, incidentally, about the age of 70. For me, it’s just a nice round number that seems far enough in the distance so that it’s not a pressing deadline. If others want to choose a different number, that’s fine with me as long as they make the commitment to follow through.
As for the pall that could be cast as those last days approach, I think it’s just a matter of adjusting our too-unrealistic attitudes toward death. We think life is preferable just because it’s all we’ve known, not unlike growing up in rural South Carolina in the belief that that’s the best it can get. I can be convinced that the Great Beyond is simply a nothingness that’s impossible for us to comprehend; boring perhaps but far from unbearable.
I strongly urge others in my position who may read this to strongly consider joining with me in this brave and selfless enterprise. Mark yourself as among the select few who have the generosity of spirit to think about someone other than themselves for a change. If you’ve ever anguished over what’s the right birthday present to give your grandchildren, not knowing a Wii from a Webkin, consider this the perfect gift.
And comfort yourself, as I’ve done, with a song from our beloved Sixties that just played on the overhead Muzak here at the store:
I’m calling everyone to ride along/To another shore/Where we can laugh our lives away/And be free once more.
Ride Captain Ride/Upon your mystery ship/Sail away to a world/That others might have missed.