Further Reflections on Ezekiel Emmanuel’s Desire To Die at 75

A prior post set forth this blogger’s negative reactions to Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel’s essay “Why I Want to Die at 75” in the October 2014 issue of The Atlantic Magazine. Another post referenced others’ reactions.

Now the December issue of that magazine contains extensive readers’ reactions. Here are some of those comments, all to my surprise by women, along with Dr. Emmanuel’s response.

 Readers Responses

Arlene Pollack of Yarmouth Port, Mass. Said, “We octogenarians . . . have grown more understanding of our fellow elderly, more grateful for the love and companionship of our mates, more intent on remaining deeply involved in the lives of each and every family member, and more determined to set an example for our children and grandchildren of how to age in such a way that we don’t leave our loved ones with a dread of incapacity, a horror of diminished vitality. I understand that we cannot anticipate what will befall us, that we may not be able to fulfill this goal, but having this positive philosophy brings a certain peace of mind.”

Felicia Nimue Ackerman, Professor of Philosophy, Brown University, Providence, RI, who thought Dr. Emmanuel’s reasons for his desire to die were elitist, stated, “If Dr. Emanuel hopes to die at 75 because he thinks this would benefit his children, that is his prerogative, although other people might doubt that children selfish enough to welcome this parental sacrifice deserve it. Moreover, Dr. Emanuel’s suggestion that it would be good for ‘each of us to ask whether our consumption is worth our contribution’ will hardly attract those who think that even the unproductive have an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Caroline M. Simon of Louobressac, France offered these comments: “If . . . Dr. Emanuel is saying that there is no sense in leading a life in which one is not able to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, gain great applause at professional meetings, direct the behavior of one’s family members and friends, and implant memories in loved ones of an energetic, risk-taking guy so that children and grandchildren, students and friends can hope to emulate one’s nonempathetic ways, then I couldn’t disagree more. . . . Who is to define what is a life worth living? Certainly not the middle-aged Dr. Emanuel. He can see little pleasure in helping future generations mature, in continuous learning, in days spent enjoying the company of others when we are not at the head of the table. He ignores the blessings of performing everyday tasks and attending routine events and basking in the joy of memories. He gives little value to happiness gained from kindness, generosity, shared wisdom, unselfish love, a walk with a cane in a beautiful garden, and a lifelong search to discover who we are and what our role is in the continuum of life in our community and on Earth.”

Ruth Marcus, a Washington Post columnist, said “there is no sin in slowing down. There is satisfaction in completing the crossword. You don’t always have to bike past the roses on your way up the mountain. In high gear.”

Margaret Connolly of Niles, Illinois said, “It seems sadly obvious that Dr. Emanuel’s desire to leave his children and grandchildren with memories of his vitality is the genuine dream of the American immortal. To actually believe that one can shape the memories of our progeny with a possibly truncated life is sheer hubris. It’s an unattainable aspiration.”

 Dr. Emmanuel’s Reply

Dr. Emmanuel’s characterized this group of comments as “the troubled” and said they “tend to describe his article as ‘thought-provoking.’ They are challenged by it. They object to my view of a meaningful life. As Caroline M. Simon says, ‘Who is to define what is a life worth living?’”

This was his reply to this group, “Who else but each of us individually for ourselves? My goal was to challenge these people to not live the habitual life, to not avoid the ‘big questions’ about the ultimate worth of our lives. We carefully construct our lives, filling them to overwhelming with activities in order to assiduously avoid such spiritual and existential questions, I think at our peril.”


 I do not see how Dr. Emmanuel legitimately can call this group “troubled” or as calling his article “thought-provoking.” Instead, they object to his view of a meaningful life as I did in my posts.

I also believe his response to this group is totally inadequate. He apparently does not acknowledge the criticism that his view of a meaningful life is twisted and needs to be re-evaluated.



















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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

3 thoughts on “Further Reflections on Ezekiel Emmanuel’s Desire To Die at 75”

  1. Comment: David Brooks’ Gentle Retort to Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel

    New York Times columnist David Brooks gently rebukes Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel’s desire to die at age 75 with these words: “if Zeke dies at 75, he’ll likely be missing his happiest years.”

    According to Brooks, social science researchers report that “old people are happier than young people. The people who rate themselves most highly are those ages 82 to 85.”

    Brooks believes “that elder happiness is an accomplishment, not a condition, that people get better at living through effort, by mastering specific skills. I’d like to think that people get steadily better at handling life’s challenges. . . . In old age, they have more control over the challenges they will tackle and they get even better at addressing them.” Here are the skills he asserts are improved as we age.

    “First, there’s bifocalism, the ability to see the same situation from multiple perspectives. . . . Only with experience can a person learn to see a fraught situation both close up, with emotional intensity, and far away, with detached perspective.”

    Second is “lightness, the ability to be at ease with the downsides of life. Anxiety is the biggest waste in life. If you know that you’ll recover, you can save time and get on with it sooner.”

    Third is “the ability to balance tensions” and competing demands.

    Fourth is an increased “intuitive awareness of the landscape of reality, a feel for what other people are thinking and feeling, an instinct for how events will flow.”

    In conclusion Brooks says, “It’s comforting to know that, for many, life gets happier with age. But it’s more useful to know how individuals get better at doing the things they do. The point of culture is to spread that wisdom from old to young; to put that thousand-year-heart in a still young body.”

    Thanks, David, from a Senior Citizen.

    Brooks, Why Elders Smile, N.Y. Times (Dec. 6, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/05/opinion/david-brooks-why-elders-smile.html?ref=opinion

  2. Comment: Other Articles About Happiness Research

    Robert J. Samuelson, a Washington Post columnist, also has written about research regarding happiness. He says, “old age is to be endured as much as enjoyed. People fear declining health, growing dependence and increasing social isolation. But on average, they also count themselves happier. Consult public opinion surveys, and that’s what you find.”

    He refers to an Atlantic Magazine article on the subject by his friend, Jonathan Rauch, who talks about the “Happiness U-Curve.” According to Rauch, “some elements of aging are conducive to wisdom, and to greater life satisfaction . . . . [O]lder people are less prone to feel unhappy about things they can’t change—an attitude consistent with . . . ancient traditions that see stoicism and calm as part of wisdom. . . . Older brains may thus be less susceptible to the furies that buffet us earlier in life.” In addition, “social reasoning and long-term decision making improve with age; that spirituality increases (especially among women); that older adults feel more comfortable coping with uncertainty and ambiguity.”

    Samuelson, The happiness u-curve, Wash. Post (Dec. 7, 2014), http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/robert-samuelson-the-happiness-curve/2014/12/07/3b7b359a-7ca3-11e4-b821-503cc7efed9e_story.html; Rauch, The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis, The Atlantic (Dec. 2014), http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/12/the-real-roots-of-midlife-crisis/382235/.

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