Friday, September 30, 2016

International Day of Older Persons (2016)

Saturday is the International Day of Older Persons.

The concern for the health and happiness of older persons is something close to both my professional and personal life, so I offer some thoughts on the significance of the this day, invoking the parlance of political philosophy!

My Quick Take on this topic: Justice requires we treat all persons as free and equal citizens, and this duty applies to persons at all stages of the lifespan, including the post-reproductive stage of life.

My Expanded Take: The world has made great (but admittedly uneven) progress in reducing early life mortality. A baby born into the world today has a life expectancy of 71.4 years. This is humanity’s most amazing success story- we have escaped what we can call the “Young World”, a world where most humans died before reaching middle age. Such was the fate of our species for 99.9% of our species’ evolutionary history. Now we have reduced the extrinsic risks of death and disease to a level such that it makes sense to describe the human world as an “Aged Word”. There will be an estimated 2 billion people over the age of 60 by the middle of this century, and life expectancy is projected to rise to age 80 by the end of the century. Our populations are etching closer and closer to the upper limits of the (average) lifespan of approximately 85 years.

This development, while a wonderful success story, also presents enormous challenges for families, health care institutions, basic research on health and the economy. How do we combat the social isolation that many older persons face? How do we fairly manage the caring duties required by aging populations? How should our laws and policies surrounding the end of life be modified? And what can we do to promote healthy aging, so that people can enjoy more health, vitality and independence in late life? I believe these are among the most pressing societal questions facing humanity this century.

So Saturday I am hoping everyone will (1) you reach out to connect with, and express gratitude to, some older persons in their life; and (2) ask yourself what you (and all of us) can do to help make our families, societies and the world a better place for older persons.