Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday playfully disagreed with his older brother’s provocative suggestion that it’s best to die at 75 to avoid the vexing issues of declining performance and worsening health.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a bio-ethicist and influential health adviser to President Barack Obama, stirred the pot in an article in the October issue of, “The Atlantic” under the headline, “Why I Hope to Die at 75.”
“The mayor personally disagrees with his brother’s view on dying at 75, but he also believes it’s important to look at what Zeke was really exploring, which is how to live a full life – and that’s a question worth asking,” Kelley Quinn, the mayor’s communications director, wrote in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Of course, he and [younger brother] Ari also told him not to worry, because they’re going to kill him at 70 anyway.”
Zeke Emanuel’s article has touched off a firestorm of controversy, in part, because of his blunt assessment of life after 75.
“The fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us,” the mayor’s brother wrote.
“It is true, people can continue to be productive past 75 — to write and publish, to draw, carve, and sculpt, to compose. But there is no getting around the data. By definition, few of us can be exceptions.”
The suggestion that life after 75 isn’t worth living risks offending senior citizens, one of Chicago’s most reliable voting blocks.
That’s apparently why it makes sense for the mayor to publicly disagree with his older brother.
In the article, Zeke Emanuel notes that his preference for dying at 75 — and his plan to avoid chemotherapy, pacemakers, flu shots and other life-prolonging treatments — has stirred controversy within his family of over-achievers.
“This preference drives my daughters crazy. It drives my brothers crazy. My loving friends think I am crazy. They think that I can’t mean what I say; that I haven’t thought clearly about this, because there is so much in the world to see and do,” Zeke Emanuel wrote.
“To convince me of my errors, they enumerate the myriad people I know who are over 75 and doing quite well. They are certain that as I get closer to 75, I will push the desired age back to 80, then 85, maybe even 90.”
But, Zeke Emanuel uses his own pediatrician father to justify his argument for dying at 75.
“About a decade ago, just shy of his 77th birthday, he began having pain in his abdomen. Like every good doctor, he kept denying that it was anything important. But after three weeks with no improvement, he was persuaded to see his physician. He had in fact had a heart attack, which led to a cardiac catheterization and ultimately a bypass. Since then, he has not been the same,” Dr. Emanuel wrote.
“Once the prototype of a hyperactive Emanuel, suddenly his walking, his talking, his humor got slower. Today he can swim, read the newspaper, needle his kids on the phone, and still live with my mother in their own house. But everything seems sluggish. Although he didn’t die from the heart attack, no one would say he is living a vibrant life.”