We live too long. Too long for nature, too long for our personal resources and too long for our nation’s resources.
We really should stop doing that.
The futurist Ray Kurzweil, who I’ve previously written about, believes that, starting in about 15 years, technology will be “adding more than a year every year to your life expectancy.” I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure that means Ray believes we’re all going to living forever.
It almost makes me want to die 14 years from now, because living forever would suck big time. Especially with the 60% increase I just got on my long term care insurance premiums. (Thank you, Genworth; you also suck big time.)
What If You Don’t Wanna Live That Long?
In 1900, the life expectancy in the U.S. was 46.3 for men and 48.3 for women. Fifty years later, it was 65.6 for men and 71.1 for women. In 1998 it was 73.8 and 79.5. In 2010 it was 75.8 and 80.8.
I’m not just referring to our decrepit super-senior years, when so many elderly folks waste away in assisted living and senior facilities, being kept alive with increasingly costly procedures. I’m talking about living a better life before that happens…when we’re still young (relatively). And, as with many things, it mostly comes down to money.
Here’s the problem: you don’t know how long you’re going to live. This makes it very difficult to plan accordingly.
You stash your money away in IRAs and 401k’s and the like, but you don’t know how long that money has to last, so (unless you’re very wealthy) you’re never sure how fast you can spend it. Can you afford to take that African safari you’ve always dreamed of so you can see the world-famous Cecil the Lion? Maybe. But maybe not, because if you live into triple digits, you might run out of cash.
Which is just as well; you’ve already outlived Cecil.
Getting Your Money’s Worth Out of Life.
The ideal scenario is if your accounts are pretty much at zero on the day you die. (Ideal for you, not necessarily for your heirs, but let’s leave them out of it for now.) That would mean you’d done as much as your savings allowed without skipping anything on your bucket list because you were rationing your savings to last for another 10 or 20 years or 40 years.
In other words, you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
A quick analogy: you’re the only one to survive a cruise ship disaster, and you’re on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with whatever supplies you grabbed as you went overboard: a couple of gallons of water and some shrimp from the midnight buffet. You limit yourself to a small portion of water everyday, and maybe a couple of shrimp–minimum sustenance. By the third day, you’re parched and starving; by the fourth, you’re so weak you can barely get up the energy to lament your lack of Internet access. But wait! Here comes a boat! They see you! You’re saved! And you still have a whole gallon of water and three shrimp! If you had only known you’d be out there just four days, you could have drank more and eaten more and lamented more.
And therein lies the key phrase: “if you had only known.”
If you knew at age 60 that you were going to die at age 85, then you wouldn’t have to ration your savings so that they would last until age 95 or older. You wouldn’t have to live on only the income from your investments; you could start fearlessly using the principal. You could live so much better over your remaining 25 years without worrying about the 10 or more years you won’t see.
But this isn’t really about knowing when you’re going to die. It’s about deciding when you’re going to die. People are always talking about taking control of your life. It may be time to consider taking control of your life span.
A One-Person Suicide Pact.
Here’s how it would work: at a certain age, let’s say 60, you make a contract with yourself that you’re going to commit suicide at some future date. You don’t have to tell anyone else about it if you don’t want to.
How do you pick an age? You could use any criteria you like, but for this example, let’s base it on the average life span in America. It’s about 78 years, but that’s misleading, because it includes infant and childhood deaths as well as violent and accidental deaths. For the purposes of this exercise, we need to look at the average life span of people who make it to adulthood and don’t die of accidental or malicious causes. You could take that span, and maybe add a couple of years for good measure. For argument’s sake, let’s say our target age is 85.
That’s a good target for another reason: by then, your odds of getting Alzheimer’s disease or some other debilitating condition are more than 50%.
Okay, so you make a contract with yourself to die at age 85. This contract is non-binding and non-science fiction: no deathbots will come to take you away on your 85th birthday. It’s merely to give your finances a target date so they don’t have to be stretched thin enough to accommodate an indefinite life span. The idea is to live as well as possible instead of as long as possible.
A shorter, better life.
And keep this in mind: your chosen death age is, of course, not a guarantee. You could get hit by a bus or get a fatal disease at any time before that. Good thing you were living the good life until then!
By the way, remember what I said earlier about your heirs? Well, think about how much you can bulk up on life insurance (personally, I’d prefer that you buy it from Genworth). Just be sure to do it at least two years before your target date, because most policies have a two-year moratorium on pay-outs for suicides.
Also remember: there’s no commitment. You win the lottery, your investments do better than expected, your grandchild is getting married, your family doesn’t mind you being a financial burden, you can go right on living past your target date.
So that’s the idea in its simplest form. An agreement between you and your conscience to limit your life span so you can live better while you’re healthy enough to enjoy life.
The concept can be expanded by involving the government and doing things like condensing Social Security benefits, but that would also greatly complicate matters, so let’s keep this to ourselves. Although legislators could help a little by making assisted suicide legal for those over 85…regardless of medical status. In a recent poll by Pew Research, 80% of Americans surveyed said they’d rather not live into their 90s. You can’t even get that big a percentage of Americans to agree on evolution! If we don’t want to live that long, why should we be forced to?
I know America will never allow suicide on demand. We’ll have to keep shortening our lives the way we always have, by getting as many guns as possible into the hands of lunatics.
“We can’t be playing God,” people will say. But isn’t that what we’re doing now, by unnaturally and sometimes even cruelly extending lives?
And, look, there are plenty of ways to get your hands on some phenobarbital. And live a shorter, better life.
See you soon.