Do You Want to Live Forever?

A couple of key issues that relate to  ‘longevity’ have cropped up in Ireland in recent weeks and now everywhere I look I seem to be seeing things about people wanting to prolong life and try and evade death by hook or by crook.

Irish people (like those in other developed countries) are living a lot longer than they used to and very little provision was made for this. So now we have a situation where older people are ‘clogging up’ beds in acute hospitals because they have nowhere suitable to go. Home care packages just aren’t sufficient and there aren’t enough nursing home or supported-living places.

The idea of being stuck in an acute hospital, not in the best of health, worrying about ‘where to’ next is something that fills me with dread. I witnessed elements of this with my own parents when they were in their late eighties and their quality of life was declining.  However, they were fortunate to be able to remain in their own home, with care, and this mattered hugely to them both.

The vast majority of Irish people want to die in their own homes but only a small percentage actually achieve this goal.

For me, there is a key question about whether people  want to live on because they don’t want to die ~ either because they fear it or because they don’t want to leave others behind.

I feel that quality of life is key and having to  ‘exist’ when the mind and body have essentially outlived their time is a form of cruel imprisonment than no one deserves to have to endure unless s/he chooses.

I realise that this is controversial territory but maybe it is a debate which society badly needs to address.

What’s your view on the matter?


Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

24 thoughts on “Do You Want to Live Forever?”

  1. My heart goes out to elderly people who are struggling to keep going. I see it with my aunt who says she has had enough of this life due to frailty and infirmity yet she fears what comes next. She asks me constantly what she has to live for yet she cannot see what she brings to others. I remind her constantly. The danger is that an old, frail, possible lonely and depressed person may not be in the best frame of mind to make a life or death decision. It’s very dangerous ground and you are brave to bring this subject up. What I find myself saying and thinking often is ‘ there is only one thing worse than old age, and that is dying young’. Having lost my mother when she was just 49 and my sister who was 44, I hope that I will accept the difficulties and challenges that old age will bring (if I am lucky to survive as the longevity genes don’t seem to good!)

    1. Hi Patsy, thanks for writing and it’s clear you’ve given this a lot of thought. Losing your mother and sister at such young ages must have been/be very difficult.
      It sounds like your aunt is very fortunate to have you to talk to about such life and death issues. I reckon that having love in life is a strong reason to keep living.
      As for the decision-making, it would arguably be good to be able to set down ones wishes -and have them followed, should extreme situations arise – when one is well enough to do so. I guess this would give comfort to some but the ideal is probably to see out ones days surrounded by love and excellent, caring medical provision, if needed.

  2. I think it’s the fear of leaving those we love behind, the finality of it, the unknown of what’s on the other side. We do feel that we will meet again with loved ones that have passed and have life everlasting with God (providing that we have brought Him into our lives). I don’t want to live forever especially facing the health issues that we all seem to get, the idea of being a burden to someone, not wanting to spend our final days in a nursing home…getting Altzheimers, Dementia. Hopefully most of us will not suffer this fate. I would prefer to live out my life like most in my own home, but one needs to have some form of help with the daily chores..So this is my view on the subject.

    1. Hi, Joni. The matter of religious beliefs (or not) is definitely key in all this. I think a belief in an afterlife changes perspectives totally.
      Yes, leaving loved ones is a major matter, too, for those fortunate enough to have such key people in their lives.
      I think the ‘burden’ issue comes into play most forcibly when people have no one who cares deeply about them, for whatever reason. Perhaps, this is where health care professionals have a very key and extended role to play.

  3. Brave indeed, yet it’s a subject EVERYONE should discuss often. I know I don’t want to live on if it’s in painful fraility in which I’m unable to give anything more to my family or society. Yet I understand that our will to live, to survive, many times bypasses good sense, and makes it so difficult to ‘let go’ when it’s that time.

    1. Thanks for writing, RW.
      I agree that there’s a ‘will to live’ but there also seems to be a will to try and keep people alive and a sense of failure if/when they die, even if they are a great age.

  4. We’re having the same demographic issue here in Canada too Jean, as the average age of our population increases yearly. There have been a lot of changes in the scene in the last 10 years – many more retuirement annd assisted living facilities being constructed. One Hospital here in Ottawa (we have socialized health care) has constructed a facility adjoining the hospital that has various levels of assisted living care available. There are a number of hotels that have converted to independent or assisted care. The demand for personal care workers has skyrocketed.

    As has been discussed, many people key in on quality of life or value as a criteria for decision making. I agree whole-heartedly – the issue beng that that is a subjective criteria and the very people who need to exercise it are unable to see the possibilities or solutions. For instance soemone with a mobility issue may think that their life has no quality remaining – but then if they are supplied with the tools and envronment to address the impediment and suddenly the value returns. Their life is pointless if they have no food to eat – supply them with all the food they can eat and want – and the quality returns. And so on.

    I don’t know how it goes in Ireland but the organization necessary to adress these issues – i.e. assessment, knowledge, impelmentation – do not exist in any cohesive manner here. It’s all in bits and pieces and the knowledge (and desire) to integrate it is non- existent. Just as a personal example, I am a dialysis patient who lives on disability(degenerative nerve damage from the dialysis). Part of my “support group” is a hospital based social worker, essential services, etc. I had a car but the cost was too much and I had to get rid of it. That left me needing transport to and from the hospital. After 6 years of worrying about the transport and doing without (including cutting back on food) to make sure I could get there, the essential services worker mentioned, actually in trade for a beneit she wanted to remove, that bus passes were available free to anyone who had hospital appts 9 times per month – I go 12 or 13 times per month. For 6 years I worried about that, lost sleep, went hungry, and felt that life was losing value. And all my “support group” were aware of my concerns. I find that there is a consistent mind set that services renedered to the handcapped or elderly, etc are all cost – and that whenever cost can be reudced it is a win situation. All the people involved are very kind and reassuring and such – and will not offer any services unless they are demanded by the client. And that requires knowledge and power – neither of which are common with the elderly and disabled. In fact my essential services worker is overloaded and overwhelmed by her caseload that she is constantly lost and and confused.

    Anyway, i’m writing a post disguised as a comment – sorry Jean. Your question is a good one that requires a realignment of priorities and mind-set in order to be addressed. It isn’t possible to fix the system by constantly throwing patches on leaks – it needs something more.

    1. Paul, I absolutely take you points about co-ordination or rather the lack of it and also the broader point about how quality of life CAN be increased in many cases by identifying what people require and providing it for them. But, as you say, funding is key and I’m not so sure that people who are elderly are viewed as high priority in the society we live in.

      1. I wouldn’t have any hesitation sayig that the elderly and the handicapped are NOT valued in our society. And that is because we have identified value as wealth production. The same is true for stay-at-home-moms. There are two ways to improve this, neither of which are particularly likely to happen. Having dealt with gov’t services and such for a few years, I can tell you taht they are, on average, very inefficient. Bits and pieces have been cobbled together as needs arose and money can be saved by reorganizing. There are a lot of services that are delivered very inefficiently. Also there is no accountability – they measure performance by lost work days and reduced budgets, not by services rendered for dollar spent. The second issue is, as a pragmatist, we have to accept that we have to find a way for as many of people as possible to “add value”. This cannot be done withn the industrial/financial structure we have built. It requires a different approach. There is nothing that the elderly and the handicapped like better than to feel they have value. In days gone by the nuclear family held sometimes 3 or 4 generations. The elderly were consulted for family decisions and were respected and cherished for their experience and wisdom. Since the growing influence of wealth creation as means of measuring value, this has disappeared.Even if it is volunteer work that reduces costs in other areas, it is still adding value. And it will take some thoughtful people with power to figure out how this can be done, but I am convinced it can.

        Anyway, pet peeve of mine – sorry to bend your ear. Have a great Christmas Jean!

  5. When I faced my own mortality, I went through a period of time asking myself what it was I feared. For my own personal reasons, I want to live long, and hopefully stay healthy. Maybe that’s not possible, but I’m going to try.

    1. Hi April, many thanks for contributing to this topic. I agree than when faced with one’s own mortality one asks a lot of key questions.
      I hope that you get your wish and that you life a long and healthy life. There’s certainly a lot we can do as individuals to offset certain health issues but so much is in the lap of the gods.

  6. “Life should begin with age and its privileges and accumulations, and end with youth and its capacity to splendidly enjoy such advantages…would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.” ~ Mark Twain

    I enjoy living and currently am making no plans to stop, even though I know it will happen eventually. We are mortal. If science could come up with a medicine to reverse the aging process, I suppose I’d dabble in such an elixir, even though running the risk of outrageous mischief all over again. But that isn’t realistic. I’ve told my sons that when the time comes, don’t feel sorry for me. After all, I’ve had a better life, and a more adventurous one than most people ever born can even imagine. That I lived through a few experiences surprised some folks, and myself, too, on occasion.

    With five grandchildren already, the gene pool has some very good chance of survival. Beyond such times as I might experience an awareness of surprises, understanding,laughter, trials, successes, and failures, there will come a time to let go. Beyond that point, my only hope is that the children be well, and if memories of me linger, might they be attached to smiles.

  7. So many sobering thoughts as the year draws to a close… I find my attitudes to what’s important in life adjust as I age. Right now I’m still full of energy and enthusiasm for life, but I expect that interest to wane and my focus to shift at the appropriate time, just like my interest in ‘things’ shifted midway to interest in experiences instead. I thought this was a universal feeling — am I right?

    1. Hi Sandy, I felt a little guilty publishing this post at this of supposed merriment but it was burning a hole in me due to happenings here in Ireland right now.

      As for the universality that you mention, I’m not so sure. I think that people are very diverse and mindsets vary very considerably depending on culture as well as individual life experiences.

      I’d be very interested to hear what others think about this!

  8. Deep subject, one that few talk about. It’s a cruel and double-edged sword that that scientific advances have brought us. 100 years ago you got sick, you died. Now we demand that we be cured and demand that our loved ones be treated to be kept alive a little longer no matter their quality of life. Health services around the world just can’t pull off this trick.
    Speaking for myself only, if I was diagnosed tomorrow with an incurable illness I’d instruct that there be no treatment other than pain relief. I recognise that it’s not that simple for many people, those with loving families, for example. I also recognise that my ability to make such a decision may be impaired as I get older. It’s a sad, sad situation as Elton John would say.

    1. Hi Roy, deep indeed!
      I’m not convinced that we all demand that our loved ones be kept alive no matter what the quality of their lives. I think that’s more part of what’s demanded of us by law and culture.

      Yes, it’s that possibility of ending up in a situation where you are defined as not being ‘able’ to make a decision that is the worrying possibility. That’s where advance directives could have a key role to play, IF they were legally binding.

  9. I am terrified of outliving my mind! I have a fear of being lost and alone and homeless! I never want to be a burden or a nuisance. Even worse too be so far gone not to know what is happening!

    1. Hi Willow, I hear your fears but the one about ‘outliving your mind’ is one that I used to have until I saw how, in many ways, having dementia eased my late father’s last years, especially after Mother died. It was almost like a cocoon from harsh realities.
      I know everyone’s experience is different but his was a revelation to me.

        1. Hi Willow, I think that’s something that’s often forgotten, Also, I feel, from my experience, as ‘the carer,’ that dementia was not the absolute horror it is genenally made out to be. Threads of connection can often be maintained and they are golden.

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