Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Rethinking the future

We are bombarded with messages about living long, strong lives, protecting our health and vitality, our reproductive abilities, extending our lives beyond our 80th year, and finding cures for lethal illnesses. And these all sound great and most of us buy into them to some extent.

I certainly have. Over the years, I've changed my diet, upped my exercise, invested in the proper insurances, worn my seat belt obsessively (if only to keep that damned beeper from going off as I descend the driveway), and taken seriously my doc's recommendations about medications to prevent bone loss and cholesterol overdrive, even as I remain wary about side effects.

I'm rethinking all that. I don't know if I want to be so physically strong that I have a hard time physically letting death take me, when the time comes. And I don't know if I want to take life-prolonging measures if they only buy me a longer but less-pleasant lifespan.

Last Sunday I was invited to preach in a neighboring church and the worship coordinator asked me to bring my sermon entitled "Sex and the Single Planet", in which I discuss the clash between our human drive to procreate, nurture life, and prolong life as long as possible AND the effects of this innate drive on the ability of the earth to sustain this kind of proliferation of human life.

Several people came up afterwards to express agreement and to point out that our human compassion for the weak and helpless clashes with the rational position that we must limit births and allow people to die sooner. One man said "the Gates Foundation is providing millions of dollars to stamp out malaria in countries where it is prevalent and in the process save the lives of millions of babies who would otherwise die." This humanitarian effort is compassionate and meets a deep human need, but it also increases the survival rate of millions of lives.

I have been with a few people in the past year or so who have made decisions about end of life issues and have voluntarily let go of life, rather than take one last treatment or intervention. I have also known those who wanted to try everything, until they were so weak and in so much pain that their bodies simply gave up.

Right now, one beloved man who has stayed fit and capable and full of vitality right up until a terrible fall is too strong to let go. And his misery is palpable. Of course, his physical strength and health have been the reason he has lived so well for so long, but now, when it would be a blessing to be able to succumb to pneumonia or some other way of easing out of life, it's not likely to happen.

I don't plan to drop my gym membership or start eating nothing but bonbons in hopes of dying more easily in my 80's, but it's tempting, believe me. Favorite Son, you're gonna be in charge of my life some day. You're gonna need to be healthy yourself to handle me!


Heather said...

About saving babies from malaria--I've read that when infant mortality goes down, when there are more surviving children, mothers tend to decrease the number of times they get pregnant. As long as birth control methods are available, as well as malaria prevention & medication, this would suggest that we can trust that saving children from disease is not a population disaster.

ms. kitty said...

That's a really good point, Heather, thanks.

Miss Kitty said...

You've given me a lot of food for thought, Ms. K. My mom says that if she "can't even clean out a litter box, let alone wipe [her] own ass," then what does it matter how old she's lived? (There may be an E&P post coming out of this.)

You made so many good points about being able to let go of life when that time comes. I hadn't thought about the situation you describe with your elderly friend--doing poorly after a fall, but too strong (physically--how about emotionally?) to let go.

We all have to face death at some point. Thanks for helping me consider the issue in a different way.

ms. kitty said...

I'll look forward to your post, Miss K.

Mile High Pixie said...

I've had friends make fun of me for working out and eating well, saying "we all die sometime". The point I make in return is that the deaths associated with poor health habits are usually drawn out and painful...COPD, emphysema, MI, stroke, etc.

The problem I'm finding, Rev. Kit, is that because I began working out and eating well in my 20s, I'm having a hard time accepting that m body cannot/won't do certain things anymore because it's in its 30s. I have a hard time believing on a gut level that I can't run as fast/hard as I used to. I suppose this is my first real brush with mortality. (my dad's death was kind of the first, but it was under unnatural circumstances.)

kimc said...

Heather -- that "as long as birth control methods are available" is a big "if". the US has been trying to keep birth control info away from people for some years. I think Obama changed that policy pretty fast -- another one of the positive things we don't hear much about.

ms. kitty said...

Pixie, that's a normal response for everyone, but I know in your case it would be particularly frustrating. It's such a visible manifestation of age and it's logical you'd be disappointed as it wanes even slightly.

Kimc, thanks for your reminder about the birth control change of policy.