October 7, 2014

Exit Life at Age 75? Should This 85-Year-Old Have Done That?

In the current issue of The Atlantic, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel argues that the quality of human life begins to drop off by age 75... enough, he says, that he will opt out of medical treatments and let nature run its course. The article has generated a firestorm of comment in the media, particularly since it was written by a leading oncologist from a prominent family.

Dr. Emanuel is chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and a former Obama administration policy adviser. He is also older brother to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Hollywood talent agent Ari Emanuel.

At 75, Dr. Emanuel plans to issue new instructions to his doctors. No life-prolonging measures. No screenings, like colonoscopies or cardiac stress tests; no treatments like chemotherapy or heart bypass. Not even flu shots or antibiotics -- nothing but palliative care to alleviate pain.

The link above directs to Emanuel's article. Judy Woodruff of the the PBS NewsHour interviewed Emanuel last week. That video, with transcript, is here.

I've lived for a decade after age 75 and I'm glad I didn't follow Dr. Emanuel's plan. From the critical response to his article, others agree that his idea is wrong. Still, I find myself in accord with much of what he says. It's made me pause to consider my post-75 decade, and to re-evaluate how I'll handle the years ahead.

In this post, I'll review some of what's made the past decade the happiest time of my life. Later, I'll write about about mortality and how we spend our final years -- thoughts prompted by Emanuel's article.

What follows is mostly a photo montage. I'll comment on Emanuel's article later.

Here's What Made This My Happiest Decade

My Diagnosis with Parkinson's Disease in September 2009.
This development heads the list. Emanuel sees chronic illnesses like this one as good reason for an early exit. In fact, PD has become my raison d'ĂȘtre . It's given my life new focus and purpose.

Emanuel says that by age 75 he will have lived a complete life. "I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives."

Since age 75, here's what I've seen in my three families:

My Schappi Family
Great-granddaughter Kaylee, born July 7, 2006
Kaylee celebrates her first Christmas with her mother Jessie.

Grandpa Todd and his sister Ann admire Kaylee.

Todd with Kaylee at Christmas a few years later.
Granddaughter McKenzie, born April 25, 2011

Jessie, Kaylee, and McKenzie (now called Kenzie).
Kenzie, the explorer.
Great-grandson Camden, arrives Christmas Eve, 2013
Todd invited the family to his house for the our holiday celebration on Christmas Eve . It was an interesting evening. We had a second, much calmer get-together later.

Ann and Kaylee with Camden.
Wedding of Granddaughter Emily and Jerrod Fuller: April, 2014

The wedding and reception were the best ever!
I was honored to be asked to escort Emily's foster mother down the aisle.
Emily and Jerrod will give me my fourth great-grandchild in November.

Our Venice-to-Barcelona Cruise Last Summer
The Schappis (minus Ann) took a Venice-Barcelona cruise last summer. Here's the gang.

Here we are on a bluff overlooking Taormina, Sicily.

My Pokhara Family
I first went to Nepal in 2001 after a tour of India. I fell in love with the country and its people. My Nepal connection has enriched my life incredibly. I've "adopted" a family from Pokhara, which I think is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I helped them build a house than includes "John's room."

I managed to get Ramesh a green card and he came to the U.S. in January, 2009.  His wife Laxmi and son Rahel joined him in March, 2012.

Here are a few photos taken since my 75th birthday:

Laxmi, Ramesh, Rahel, and me.
Rahel... and the view from outside "John's room."

Celebrating Dashain
Now, an All-American Family.

My Kathmandu Family
My dozen or more trips to Nepal from 2001 to 2012 involved spending almost as much time in Kathmandu as Pokhara. In KTM, I would get my daily International Herald Tribune fix by going to a popular bookstore in Thamel (the tourist district) owned by the Thapa family. They all worked in the store and I became friends with the family. One of the sons, Nimesh, did his undergraduate work at Truman University in Kirksville, Mo. and worked each summer in Ocean City, Md. In his comings and goings, he often would stop off at my house in Washington for a day or two.

After graduating from Truman, he got his masters/finance degree at American University, which is close to my house. So Nimesh stayed with me at Eskridge Terrace.
One of the most enjoyable experiences in my life was accompanying him back to KTM for his marriage to Bhawana Khadka. When Nimesh returned to the U.S.with Bhawana, they took up residence at Eskridge Terrace.

Since then, we've become a close-knit family -- the best domestic relationship I've ever had.

I  have the honor of accompanying Nimesh on the groom's ride to the bride's house.

An arranged marriage that clearly is a love marriage as well

Nimesh's grandfather and I became best buddies

Me, Nimesh, Bhawana, Nimesh's mother and his brother Nitesh's wife
Now the scene shifts to the U.S.

Nimesh and Bhawana have a reception for their friends in the DC area
I love seeing Nimesh and Bhawana dress in their Nepali garb 

Here we are at the Boat House restaurant in NYC's Central Park
The obligatory Statute of Liberty photo

It's great to have these young people around the house.

My Kathmandu  and Pokhara families together in the U.S.
Dashain on my backporch
For Nepali's, the Dashain festival which occurs in late September or early October is like our Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Years all rolled into one. Nepal's all over the world will do their best to get home to Nepal for this festival. Since I often visited Nepal in the fall, I've celebrated Dashain there many times. And when I'm back in D,C, I'm often invited to celebrate Dashain with local Nepali friends.

Last Friday night, I got to celebrate Dashain on my own back porch. Bhawana's parents are staying with us during a month-long first visit to the U.S. I'm sad when I think that I probably never will return to Nepal. But I'm pleased that Nepal, its culture and its people are still part of my life here.

Dr, Emanuel says life after age 75 isn't worth living, particularly if you have a progressive disease. What do you think? Should I have bailed out at age 75?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John you've proven you're alive and well as long as you think you are and try to be.