This week the news broke that despite the fact that our life expectancy has been rising for the last 100 years it has now stopped rising. The report describes how the wealthier areas of the country are not affected by this and that it is the less affluent whose life expectancy is so much less. Poverty, poor working conditions and employment, education all affect life expectancy by influencing lifestyles. Of course the level of social care for the elderly also affects this. This inequality pushes against all that I believe as a Christian, for we are called to challenge oppression of every sort. The good news of ‘life in all its fullness’ is not for the wealthy and educated – it is for all.
But this news made me wonder whether we really want life expectancy to keep rising? My children’s grandma is in her 90s. Her husband died many years ago, her friends have mostly died. She gets very lonely with all her family living miles away. She can no longer drive and is increasingly isolated and unwell. I have met many elderly folk like her who feel that they have had enough. I wonder what it is that we value about longevity? Is it that we are afraid of what’s next, that we cling to what we know? Is our aim in medicine and health care to keep people alive or is it to give them the fullness of life? Inequality means that some people don’t get the chance to live differently or to die well. How should I respond to this?
By the Revd Pauline Godfrey, Discipleship and Vocations Officer