How long should we expect to live?

In Life expectancy in the 1800s not as bad as reported, I said that, “…in 1850 a [20 year-old] man could expect to live to 60.1. In 2004, that same man could expect to live to 76.7.” Improved health care has extended our lives, and increased our ability to prolong life in difficult circumstances. In Our unrealistic attitudes about death, through a doctor’s eyes, the Washington Post reports on the increasing tendency for people to eke out every last minute of life possible.

In How Doctors Die, Ken Murray MD discusses how doctors tend to shun extraordinary life-extending techniques once it is clear their time has come. I plan to do the same.

I’ve seen the inside of a hospital, having been through a near-fatal motorcycle accident and spent a month in an ICU. It was decidedly unpleasant, but necessary. I’ve had a great twenty years since then, time I wouldn’t have had if I weren’t willing to put up with having a tube up my nose to feed me, a tube down my throat to breathe for me, and a guy coming in every few hours to suction the mucus out of my lungs.

Even now I would go through it again, if the expectation were that I could be cured and live to my expected 70 or 80 years. If the goal is to allow me to continue with my normal life, that’s one thing; but I don’t intend to die to the sound of a ventilator and a heart monitor.

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