Over the past two decades, the lifespan of the average American has increased by three years, to 78.2, which means an extra 1,100 extra days of life. There is a more telling metric, however, which measure healthy life expectancy, i.e. how long individuals live healthily. In these terms, the US has fallen from 14th to 26th in the world. This is because “the US still lags behind most of the world’s other rich nations on a number of health indices, including rates of heart disease, lung cancer, and diabetes. … And some Americans, such as those living in Appalachia, are actually no healthier than Bangladeshis.”
What’s the Big Idea?
Even using unqualified life expectancy figures, the US is falling behind other nations, but we should not be blinded by our attempt to increase longevity without a concern for quality of life. This, our current attitude, has resulted in a sharp increase in medical costs without the attending benefits. “Suppose through some wonder of modern biomedical science we could suddenly double our life expectancy by staying in bed 20 hours per day, or giving up all solid foods, or never again reading a book. Would we do it? To say that we are willing to pay any price in order to increase the length of our lives is to say that we have forgotten what it really means to live.”