Ezekiel J. Emanuel, 57, [Rahm Emanuel’s older brother –JDZ] wants to die 18 years from now. We know this because he’s told us â€” in the title of an essay that’s received an enormous amount of attention since it appeared on the website of The Atlantic last Wednesday.
“Why I Hope to Die at 75” is one of those essays that will spark a nationwide conversation and debate. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart. On the contrary, given the author’s prominence in the world of health-care policy â€” he played a major role in designing ObamaCare, contributes frequent health-care-related op-eds to The New York Times, directs the Clinical Bioethics Department at the National Institutes of Health, and heads the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania â€” what’s most noteworthy about the essay is its stunning combination of wisdom and insight with moral idiocy. …
Reading Emanuel’s essay, I began to despair â€” not just about the moral outlook it expresses, but about whether its readers will even recognize how monstrous it is. Emanuel has taken the ethic of meritocratic striving that currently dominates elite culture in the United States and transformed it into a comprehensive vision of the human good. Viewed in its light, the only life worth living is one in which you endlessly, relentlessly strive to look as smart and clever as possible in the eyes of other smart and clever people. The ultimate goal of such a life is to be considered the smartest and cleverest person of all. Once old age or any other misfortune gets in the way of continually striving for that goal, one might as well cease to exist.
But what about everyone else? This includes the millions upon millions of Americans who don’t help to write major pieces of legislation, don’t pen op-eds for leading newspapers, don’t run departments at the NIH, and don’t head institutes at Ivy League universities. … The Emanuel brothers have clawed their way to the very top of the American elite. … Doesn’t a middle manager toiling away in an anonymous office on the outskirts of Des Moines â€” let alone a burger flipper earning the minimum wage at a McDonald’s down the road â€” possess far less intelligence, talent, and ambition? Isn’t he comparatively disabled? And if so, shouldn’t he hope to die right now rather than waiting for 75?
This isn’t just an academic question. Emanuel and his striving siblings have an adopted sister named Shoshana who suffers from cerebral palsy. The clear implication of Emanuel’s argument is that her life â€” like that of someone who endures a steep decline in old age â€” is not worth living. …
Though he would no doubt blanch at the suggestion, Ezekiel Emanuel has written an essay that in its implications clearly amounts to a defense of eugenics. Yet Emanuel’s position differs in one important respect from the version of eugenics that rose to prominence in the Western world in the early decades of the 20th century. Whereas eugenics was originally motivated by public-spirited ends â€” by the desire to purify the race for the sake of overall human flourishing â€” Emanuel’s version is provoked by a more personal concern: Extraordinarily creative, intelligent, ambitious, and successful individuals want to be seen and remembered as exemplars of “vitality,” and not as “burdens” slowly succumbing to the “agonies of decline.”
This is eugenics induced by narcissism.
I think myself that it is unquestionably narcissism, narcissism combined with hubristic confidence in the calculative power of human reason and the complete absence of common sense.
Ezekiel Emanuel, who’s got a degree from Oxford in Biochemistry, nonetheless manages to overlook the extreme variability of human heredity and fate and is perfectly prepared to sit in his office, fingertips pressed together, and prescribe the appropriate human lifespan for everyone. Ezekiel Emanuel obviously never met Melvin Poe, who was riding his horse and hunting hounds until very recently at age 94, and who celebrated his birthday last year by putting his horse over a fence.
Human health and lifespan, like human talent and ambition, varies over a quite extreme range. But one thing obviously doesn’t vary: We’re all ready to die 18 years from today. We are just not ready today. 18 years in the future is always a very long time. I feel perfectly sure however that, if the Atlantic checks back with Ezekiel Emanuel come 2032, the editors will find that he has changed his tune dramatically.