One of the many ways being childfree has been criticized relates to how it contributes to falling birthrates. Some experts think that low birthrates are not good for the future of countries, or the world, for that matter. Why? Because there will be too many old people. As Bryan Walsh on Times’s Ecocentric blog writes,
“..that global aging is going to present some major challenges,” namely who will “take care of the elderly?” This thinking assumes that the more offspring means more kids who will be there for their parents when they are old. But just because the offspring are here does not mean they will be “there” for their aging parents.
I don’t mean to sound cold, but one just has to look at the number of elderly in nursing homes for starters. Many adult children may also want to be there for their aging parents but can’t be, or can’t be as much as they would like, either because of geographical restrictions, work obligations, financial realities or some combination thereof.
If there are going to be even more aged compared to other age groups with the fall of birthrates, what would help? Here’s a few thoughts.
Consider rethinking our current mindset to “stay alive at all costs” when we are old. What if instead of saying yes to chemotherapy to extend lifespan in one’s elder years (I have seen people as old as 89 do chemo) for example, (to live a bit longer and likely without good quality of life) it became more of the norm to pass on chemo, and “know when it’s time to go”?
Related to this, have more states with “right to die” laws. Peter Goodwin led the way for Oregon to pass the pioneering Death With Dignity Act. It allows mentally competent people with six months to live (or less) to get medication that will assist them in ending their lives. More laws like this would allow the elderly in this situation to have control over the timing of their death (as Goodwin recently did with his own).
But to embrace both of these things, the real mindset that would need to change is around our relationship with death. Rather than hang on to perpetual youth and seeing aging negatively, a world with more elderly might mean we could change our mind about how to live the later years of our lives, not fighting death, but finding our way to embrace and accept, with wisdom and grace, that our lives are coming to an end.
Walsh also asks how we will pay to take care of all the elderly if birth rates continue to fall–mindset shifts on death like these could very well help mitigate the costs associated with trying to make the elderly live as long as possible.
Just maybe, with continued falling birthrates and more elderly, if we played it right it could be a very good thing for how we learn to face the hereafter, not just for ourselves but the population behind us.
What do you think-how to deal with global aging? Do you see a day in which Death With Dignity Acts or the like could be more accepted-even common?