In an interesting BBC Website article, health correspondent Nick Triggle asks this important question. The article usefully differentiates between “life expectancy” and “healthy life expectancy”. It points out that many people answer the question by saying “As long as I have my health”.
The question presupposes that we have a choice as to when to die. End of life choice, and support in end of life decisions is woefully inadequate in the UK – and will continue to be until there is the option of a medically assisted suicide or euthanasia, in the context of supportive palliative care for all. Only then will some people be able to have the “good death” they would hope for.
In answering the question “How long do I really want to live for”, the response “as long as I have my health” is rather simplistic. How much “health” do you need to sustain a quality of life you feel is worth living? The answer to that is personal, depending on many factors. The important point is that for some people a point is reached where incurably poor health, combined with other factors, leads them to conclude that their quality of life is permanently below the level they are prepared to accept. They feel their life is complete and are ready to die. Some take the final logical step and rationally decide to end their life.
MDMD campaign for changes in the law and medical practice so that people who feel this way can be supported, first by care, appropriate to the individual, to ensure their quality of life is acceptable to them for as long as possible; then by counselling to ensure their end of life decision is their own, persistent, mentally competent wish; and finally, if it is the person’s persistent wish, by legal medical assistance to die. When this is available, the question “How long do we really want to live for?” can be answered much more meaningfully.