“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength fails.” This is the prayer of the Psalmist in Psalm 71:9. Like so many before and after him, the Psalmist fears being forsaken when he is old. In our own times, this concern takes on an entirely new magnitude, as the ranks of the elderly and aged grow at an unprecedented rate.

This is the concern raised by Eric Cohen and Leon R. Kass in their essay, “Cast Me Not Off in Old Age,” published in the January 2006 edition of Commentary. Cohen, director of the program in biotechnology and American democracy at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Kass, the former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, have combined to write a most compelling essay on the challenge represented by millions of the aged among us.

Looking back to 2004 and the tragedy of Terri Schiavo, Cohen and Kass understand that the Schiavo case “revealed deep divisions in how Americans view debility and death.” As they explain, “Some saw pulling her feeding tube as an act of mercy, others as an act of murder. Some believed she possessed equal human dignity and deserved equal care despite her total lack of self-awareness; others believed keeping her alive year after year was itself an indignity.”…

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