A DISTINGUISHED physician recently expressed concern about the long terminal illness of one of his parents. What, our colleague queried, would happen to society if medical advances led most of us to such a demise? Aside from emotional problems affecting the family, would not such a state of sick old people undo the fiscal structure of our health care system? Yes, but is it really necessary that we must end our days old and sick if we alter our current health care system?
This question raises one of the most important issues about the future of our society—an issue of human capital and resources as vital and pressing as the problems of energy and economic capital and resources. The medical profession and society's planners for the future must responsibly face the issues raised by this question, and the purpose of this note is to open such a discussion.