Is seventy five the ideal age to bow out?

Updated: 2014-12-18 06:23

By Raymond So(HK Edition)

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Irecently read an article by a University of Pennsylvania professor. The article is about the best age of death for a person. According to this professor, it will be ideal for a person to pass away at the age of 75, as people living too long nowadays do more harm than good. In particular, at the last stage of one's life, very often people have to suffer from various diseases. The quality of life is not good at all. Apart from being alive technically, to be frank, many people are just waiting for death. The lives of old people suffering from long-term diseases are painful and lack dignity. Thus, the professor claims that the optimal age for human beings to die at is 75.

On the surface, the professor seems to be a pessimist, or one who advocates euthanasia. In fact, he is not. The professor also wrote that age was scarcely an impediment to a healthy 70-year-old. The key point is that being technically alive and ailing is indeed meaningless. In fact this argument is not extreme or extraordinary. Most recently in California a person with terminal illness decided to move to another state where euthanasia was legal.

Within a day of her choosing to go the euthanasia way, her facebook account is all of a sudden full of encouraging words and touching messages. This demonstrates that her bold decision has touched people's hearts.

The Pennsylvania professor has made it clear that he is not in favor of euthanasia or setting an age limit beyond which people shouldn't live. The reason for my citing these two examples is that these issues are extremely relevant to Hong Kong, which will have a substantial aging population very soon.

We have begun to feel the pressures of an aging population. Hong Kong can take note of comparable experiences in other places to scrutiny the seriousness of the problem. In the beginning of the last century, the life expectancy in United States was about 60 years, with not that much of a difference between the longevity of men and women. In that era, aging population was not a big problem at all as fewer people lived very long. Incidentally, there was no universal retirement protection. The birth rate was higher than now. People retired from work at about 50. The pressure caused by an aging population was not serious as the birth rate was high enough to allow the community to support the elderly. More importantly, human life was not long, and support to the elderly was affordable. Of course social welfare did not cost much either. The key is that the dependency ratio was not high as natural death came in the way of people getting too old.

Is seventy five the ideal age to bow out?

Unlike the US, Hong Kong does not have the data on this, but the situation was probably similar. The US is many years ahead of Hong Kong in economic development, and it encountered the aging problem earlier than Hong Kong did. Hence, Hong Kong is likely to face similar problems.

With advancement in medical knowledge, many diseases that were previously incurable may now have a cure. However, there is still no cure for aging and related chronic diseases. The professor from Pennsylvania who suggested 75 years was the ideal life span of a human being had combined it with thought-provoking philosophical issues. How to deal with the economic concerns in view of an aging population in society is now the big question. Many in-depth issues will emerge, and many of these will have no answers.

I think that an aging population is not just a simple issue of social commitment to support the elderly. Many other deep-rooted issues will have to be taken care of. When the proportion of the elderly in the population is rising, various social problems will follow. Currently the public focuses mainly on retirement arrangements. This is clearly not comprehensive enough.

The writer is the dean of School of Business, Hang Seng Management College.

(HK Edition 12/18/2014 page10)