Date: February 1st, 1999
Let's Be Grandparents On Our Own Terms
By Dan Perry
It doesn't seem possible that a guy who knows most of the lyrics of Jim Morrison and The Doors can wake up one day to find he is someone's grandfather. It may be jarring, but grandparenthood is the next happening thing for Baby Boomers. Trust me on this.
When I first imagined my daughter giving birth, I was immediately grateful for medical advances. Modern obstetrics has made childbirth very safe. The percentage of women who die in childbirth in the United States is one-tenth what it was in 1950. Infant mortality is still too high, especially among high risk groups. During the last century, however, deaths in the first year of life in the United States declined by nearly 100 percent.
Beyond childhood, medical research has given most of us an unprecedented chance to enjoy longer, healthier lives. An American born in 1900 had a 1 in 16 chance of living to age 85. Today, those odds are better than 1 in 3. In fact, 85 is too modest a goal. Like many of his crib-mates born at the end of the Twentieth Century, my grandson Jack has a reasonable chance to live in three different centuries.
At the close of 1999, experts in Washington warned that continuing the trend toward increased life expectancy will strain Social Security financially. You can be sure the political debate over paying for Medicare will include renewed calls for rationing health care based on a person's age. Some think the answer is to stop older people from getting the newest, most effective medicines and other health care. That may be a fine idea if you want tens of millions of Americans to end up in nursing homes. But it's a lousy idea if you value life at every age enriched by health and personal independence. There are plenty of us who want long life, but on our own terms. We want to play with our great-grandchildren, too.
Jim Morrison should have been so lucky.