TED Conversations

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

Why prolong life, if the quality of it is not worth living?

I look at things that we do as human beings, ones that make sense and others not so much. One of the things I observe is how in my life time, we spend millions if not billions of dollars to research and manufacture medical technology that might make us live longer. It is what most people want. My question is, Now that we are living longer, what is the porpuse of it if by our late 50's and 60's we require a grand cocktail of medication to help us through each day each one countering the others side-effects. Millions of people require machines like, dialsyis, pacemakers, cpaps, and so on. If our life depends on all these things why do we bother to exchange quality for quantity?

+1
Share:
progress indicator
  • thumb
    Nov 7 2013: Logan's Run anyone?

    I was a young man once Giovanni, and was definitely on board with the whole " hope I die before I get old" thing.

    However, in the end, I'm kicking on 50 and things aren't looking too bad after all. I mean yeah, bladder control is a problem, and all my teeth are gone so I'm pretty much just sucking soup 3 meals a day. But it turns out the drugs do work, so I'm actually feeling pretty chipper for an old fella.

    From the perspective of my ripe old age, I would warn against the hubris of thinking you can objectively decide for someone what makes their life worth living (or not). It's been tried before and it did not go well.

    As for consciousness and what constitutes "worthwhile", I'd suggest that making that call based on the amount of technological and/or medical intervention required is also a slippery slope. I'm guessing Stephen Hawking for one might have an alternative perspective for you.

    I appreciate that it this is a complex and emotive subject; one which health professionals deal with every day. I would strongly object however to superficial third party judgements based on age and or perceived quality of life.
  • Nov 6 2013: Someone already mentioned that it is an individual decision and I agree except when it stops someone else from living and they ask the society to pay for it. I can not see having a 70+ have a heart transplant especially if the society paid for it. The heart could have gone to a 20 year old person.
  • thumb
    Nov 5 2013: Wait 50 years and then, ask this question again.
  • thumb
    Nov 4 2013: Could it be that taking these medications and taking advantage of these treatments is viewed by people using them as a small price to pay for the joys and fulfillment that their life brings?
    • thumb
      Nov 4 2013: Maybe so, but from what I have seen, some of the adverse effects of these medications are a very big burden on the patient's daily life. in my example of patients of dialysis they give up about 4 hours a day for at least three days a week. I work in a Nephrologist group and it seems to me that the quality of life its not worth the price.
      • thumb
        Nov 4 2013: What do your patients think of undergoing twelve hours per week of treatment as the price of enjoying the other 156 hours with spouse, children, grandchildren, and friends or to write, paint, hike, volunteer, listen to music, enjoy nature, or continue to work at careers that are meaningful to them?
      • Nov 12 2013: Giovanni,
        There is an interesting article I found in the Tampa Bay Times www.tampabay.com/news/perspective/how-doctors-diebrbr/1218984 titled: How doctors die. It discusses how doctors, who see their patients making all of these attempts to live longer only to amass huge bills that place huge burdens on the surviving members of the family, usually forego such treatments and die at home. It is more about the quality of life with the time they have left than the quantity of life especially if it is a life that is in suffering. There are also several research articles on "A good death."
  • Nov 17 2013: There are always trade-offs. Though at some point, the trade-off isn't such a great deal.

    The same thing occurs all through life though. Career over family, family over career, that sort of thing. The value comes in the eye of the beholder. If I could prolong my life to spend time with my family and children, yes, I would consider it. Though if that trade-off came at a horrible price, that is for me to decide. Or, it may become the choice of the insurance or health companies to decide if my life is worth keeping around for a while longer. Ultimately, it is my choice as to whether I want to live longer or not and how much time, energy and resources I want to put into making that happen.
  • Nov 17 2013: The right to live or die I believe belongs SOLEY to the person who wishes to either live of die. I uphold their choice either way and I feel that either way, because we have the means to do so, make their end of life according to their wishes Which should be a mandatorily defined at age 16, with the option to at any time to change their minds. Offer palliative care and/or kill them under general anesthesia with ample opportunity to for family to say good bye if that is their wish. Do not EVER KILL A PERSON BY DEHYDRATING AND STARVING THEM. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY (cowards that let people die of thirst in hospitals and call it DNR orders, you are bastards) IN DEATH WITH EITHER RESPONSIBLE PALATIVE CARE, OR DEATH UNDERGENERAL ANESTHESIA AFTER ALL THE PERSONS AFFAIRS ARE IN ORDER IF THAT IS WHAT S/HE SO CHOSES.

    My point. Life is a right. So is death. So is Good Quality of Life. AUTONOMY must be upheld.
  • Nov 8 2013: Perhaps if we lived longer we'd be able to see an improved lifestyle as well. Society is not frozen and nor is the human condition, it is stagnant but it is changeable.
  • Nov 5 2013: Some value quantity rather than quality thinking that with more they get more rather than realizing that they end up with far less. Some think that the more and longer they work at it the better chance they have to resolve the issues. Some races are about endurance and getting there, because the winner is the one left standing at the end of the dance, though the real winners are the ones who danced, played, dined, dialogued and and went home accompanied to dance, play, dine, dialogue and a bit more.

    I think that its not about prolonging life per say, its about improving the quality of it (which also prolong it)...
  • thumb
    Nov 5 2013: The purpose of prolong life believe it is our dreams
  • thumb
    Nov 5 2013: Here's a Wall Street Journal piece regarding the cost, consequences, complexities and compelling personal accounts involved in prolonging life.
    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304441404577483050976766184
  • thumb
    Nov 5 2013: The meaning of life is essentially in how much we can live in a life time rather than how long we live. If we have technologies that can free us from having to work for a living, can enable us to travel around the world for free, can help us meeting as many people as we desire and have as much experience as we want, stretching life beyond 7 to 8 decades at great cost and care makes little sense.
    I think it will be wiser for us to ensure good life for all rather than long life for only who can afford it.
  • thumb
    Nov 5 2013: When I am suffering I laughed, because I saw around and found out that; we all are in same boat. Life small or prolong Its worth living If there is one person Who really care for you.
  • thumb
    Nov 5 2013: Suggest it is up to individuals in individual circumstances whether they consider it worth living.
  • thumb
    Nov 4 2013: What I don't get is the ability to sustain existance, rather than 'life'. We can keep people alive, after horrific brain trauma...However, to quote Gertrude Stein, there is no there there; there is no consciousness worthy mentioning and these people are essentially cyborgized and would die within minutes if taken off these machines... So, why do we keep these people around?
  • Nov 4 2013: Part of the life lengthening isn't just giving you more time, its also about improving the quality of that time. Today's 60 year olds are much healthier and more functional than 60 year olds just a few decades ago.

    Besides, you're not exchanging quality for quantity. You're adding quantity at no price at all, seeing as its not affecting the quality of what came before it (unless you start averaging out the quality over all the years, but its a well known fact that you can make the statistics support practically anything if you twist them around enough).

    Either way, people seem to think its worth it. Otherwise, suicide rates would have skyrocketed as medical technology progressed.