T hese are stories that send shivers down my spine.
It was an Associated Press story that appeared in The York Dispatch last Wednesday, on page A3. It was headlined, "Live to 120? 56% of those surveyed said no."
My immediate response was, "Hell no, are you crazy?"
I suspect there are a few people out there who think otherwise. They probably figure they'd like to live just as long as they possibly can. More power to them, I say. And good luck.
But I have a hunch I'm one of the majority on this issue. Because a lot of us have watched our parents, relatives, friends and neighbors age -- most times not all that gracefully, either -- and then die. So we know life becomes a struggle for most of us when we're in our 60s, and very often a real hassle by the time we get into our 70s and 80s.
I'm just starting down that road at age 64, and I must say I'm not all that enthused about it some days.
I'm afraid I have adopted the point of view of legendary screen actress Bette Davis, who is supposed to have said, "Getting old isn't for sissies."
What she meant, of course, is getting old is just very difficult, miserable some days and worse other days. It's not for the faint of heart. Frankly, it's a lot of hard work.
I base some of those feelings on my own life experience, of course. The aches and pains and an assortment of minor medical maladies are a nuisance. Taking a handful of pills every day is a nuisance. Having to pee every two or three hours is a blasted nuisance.
Do I want to live to be 120 years old? My God, no. I can't imagine anything worse.
I base that feeling on watching my neighbor lady of a dozen years live a relatively spry life -- when I first met her, she was already 84 years old and still getting around pretty well -- then, in the last two years or so, get to the point where she had very little quality of life, and preferred to spend 18 hours a day in bed sleeping.
It was no way to live in the end. She was ready to go well before her body finally gave up at age 96.
Science and medicine clearly outlasted her will to live.
My own mother lived to be 85, but she got very little pleasure out of life for the last six or seven years because of the onset of Alzheimer's, and in the last three or four years, incontinence and cranky knees that made it all but impossible for her to walk even with the help of a cane or a walker.
She was ready to die when she was 78 and said so. Imagine extending her life to 120 or anything close to that. It would have been inhumane.
The truth of the matter is, for most people, cozying up to the end of their life can be a daunting task.
Another truth is our society places great importance on extending life expectancy. We consider it an achievement. Better medicines. Better treatments. Better facilities. But frozen Medicare and Social Security benefits to help pay for it.
Still, the scientific community moves forward, ever forward, without asking itself the questions that truly matter: To what end? For what purpose? What's it going to cost? Who's going to pay for it? And who gets to say when enough is enough?
Oh, that's someone else's problem.
When I was born in 1948, the average life expectancy of an American man was about 65. American woman? About 71. Today, it's 76 for men and 81 for women.
So we've extended life for men and women by about 10 years during my lifetime with remarkable advances in medicine and science.
Great. People are getting older. Now what are we going to do with them?
Science wants to figure out a way to slow the aging process and let people live 40 years longer than they do now.
And it'll probably happen some day. After I'm long gone, I hope.
Because I, and a majority of Americans who responded to a poll by the Pew Research Center, say they want none of that. Most Americans don't want a treatment that will allow them to live to be 120. Fifty-six percent of respondents said thanks, but no thanks, to that possibility.
We get to work now until we're 66. Soon it'll be 70 -- in another 20 years, it might be 75. Then what? We get to live another 45 years after that until we die at age 120? How many of us will be able to afford to do that? Only the very wealthiest, I suspect.
I've watched people die. There's not much fun in that. But it's better, by far, than the alternative, which is keeping people alive indefinitely, straining our natural resources, placing a burden on housing, medical care, food and government services.
We'd all draw the line on our own lives at a different place, I guess.
And for most of us it would depend on quality of life -- our state of health and our financial resources.
How long we live is only just a number.
I'm thinking 80 or 85 years sounds pretty good for me, but only if I'm of reasonably sound mind -- if I can recognize my children and grandchildren by name -- have enough money to pay my bills and I'm not messing my pants three times a day.
Can I do that for 120 years? I think not.
Don't even want to try.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhick email@example.com.