Quality of Life v Length of Life

This subject recently came to my mind after visiting my doctor, who by the way, has been my GP for over 30 years now, so I know him quite well.

Both my wife and I attended the surgery for a relatively simple consultation for each of us, and we began a rather important conversation about the above topic. During the visit I mentioned to him about a small spot on my neck that did not want to heal as I regularly accidently opened up the wound. He got out his magnifying glasses and inspected same. You probably have guessed what he said. It was a form of skin cancer that he wanted to remove right away.

This is how the conversation started. I said, no, I am not an interventionist. Which, of course, he then had to enter that fact into my file in his computer. I am 80 years of age, and, for my age, in good health. I walk a couple of miles (3klms) each morning and usually stride it out, even up the steep hill to our place. I have been doing this for over 13 years now and it is quite easy. I also do exercising and strengthening exercises every other day. What I am saying is that I can achieve more than most others half my age.

Now for the point of discussion. I told my doctor that I did not believe that cutting off any small akin cancer is likely to affect me physically in the next 5 years of so, so why bother. I also said that my interest, at my age, was not on how long I lived, but on the quality of life until the end. My wife has similar ideas on such things and although she is only 72, she does not go looking for health problems or illnesses. Both of us believe on staying as healthy as one can, and then accepting the philosophy of “what will be, will be”. We believe that our quality of life is far more important than living forever. We do not wish to be a burden on anyone else and we will row our own boat for as long as the boat floats.

The doctor’s response was somewhat surprising. While he felt, as a doctor, he could not completely approve of what we were saying, but as an older individual, he understood where we were coming from. We are all dying from the day we are born, and being overly concerned as to ones length of life curtails the ability to enjoy your quality of life. It is important to make the best of every day and stay in a positive mindset. This will not only help you get through the day, it will increase your level of happiness.

I believe that the most important goal in life should be happiness. If you are happy, you are also content. Living in the day and not worrying about tomorrow, is all a part of ones quality of life. Work on that and the rest will follow. Both my wife and I cannot see how extending someone’s life beyond their ability to reasonably look after themselves is constructive, or adds to any level of happiness. Being in undue pain, unable to look after any bodily functions, not being able to think straight, are often a part of ones end of life. Can anyone objectively say that that is truly living. Is not their quality of life more important than their length of life?

Modern medical science has spent far too much time of ensuring that old people live longer., but very little on their quality of life. Can anyone say why this is so? When one of our loved pets becomes really sick, do we think it right and proper to extend their life for some time after they become completely unable to continue their loving ways? Why do our pets, who are in many cases very much a part of our families, get different considerations and treatments than other members of our family? Is one right and one wrong?

While the conversation with my doctor went on somewhat longer than he should have allowed, he eventually mentioned that his mid 80’s mother thought somewhat similar to us. After a while, while it was difficult for him to agree with what we were saying, he understood where we were coming from. He made it quite clear that he is not used to discussing such matters in his consulting rooms, and on thinking about it, I can understand why.

What I would like to know, is what do the readers of this blog think about this question? Is there another train of thought that makes sense? Why do most consider that ones length of life is so important, even after a exceedingly long time on this earth. Every living thing in this world has a limited life span. Do we worry about stepping on a bug? Why is human life any more important than any other life? Is it just because we think about it more, or just because we happen to have a bigger and more sophisticated brain? Is it fear of death we are worried about? If so, why do we not worry about any other living things dying? Any bright ideas out there?

We human beings are just another species of animal, all of which have a limited average life span. Some absolutely amazing butterflies only live for a few days, and we all except that. Our closest cousins in the animal world have a similar life span to our own, particularly considering their often difficult living environment. We, as a species, have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to where we are today, and the main difference is in our brain power. I very much doubt that any other species of animals ever consider their length of life – they just have to fight for it every day.

From a personal point of view, when I was about 50 years of age, I thought I would be happy to reach the ripe old age of 3 score years and 10 (70). That birthday came and went and time has marched on. I told my doctor that I now consider myself to be on borrowed time, and that the inevitable is just getting closer. Accepting the inevitable seems to me to just make sense. Worrying about it will not change the end result, it will probably just affect your quality of life in the meantime. Accepting reality and having positive thoughts benefits us all.

We finally left the doctor’s office with a smile, a handshake and a little extra understanding. It probably also means the subject will come up again, but next time I will go easy on him, because I now understand his professional position.

Length of Life or Quality of Life?

Published by sharingknowledge

I am an older retired person currently living in Queensland, Australia who has lived in 6 different countries for 5 years or more each. They include England, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Norfolk Island and now Australia. I have a wide range of interests which include, amongst others, education, business, travel, volunteering, classic cars and government. I consider myself to be very logical, consistent, thoughtful and generally involved with society. I welcome any considered views and opinions.

5 thoughts on “Quality of Life v Length of Life

  1. Phil:
    I will not argue with you on the quality v length of life. However, I would suggest that since the spot on your neck does not want to heal, removing it and letting the surgical removal heal would, I think, add to the quality of your life, My experience with such a removal, four years ago, has added to my quality of life.
    Warmest regards, Ed


  2. Hi Phil.

    Thank you for posting such a thoughtful blog. And for requesting commentary. I think your question might best be answered with a few of my own.

    What imparts the ability to discern when one person’s quality of life is better than another’s?

    If you are against medical intervention, then why do you see your doctor?

    And, where should we expect our society to go once it fully embraces euthanasia? I imagine a gradual deterioration of medical ability from what society would have had would occur. While you might not object to our grandchildren having less medical acumen, would you also not object to their considering eugenics? While euthanasia and in general, discussions about relative “quality of life”, are not eugenics, they do head in that direction.

    Thanks again, Bill.


    1. Bill, Thanks very much for your comments – they are most welcome, regardless of your point of view. That is exactly what informed and civilized discussion is all about.
      To answer your questions, I will make the following comments. I am not suggesting euthanasia in my post, although it could be inferred if you see it that way. I make the point that the medical profession spends far too much time, effort and money on extending a persons life, as against improving their patient’s quality of life. My contention is that the world is not necessarily becoming a better place for everyone by the medical profession continuously putting all their efforts into extending people’s lives. I contend that far more work should be expended on improving all our quality of life, by way of educating everyone on the benefits of living a healthier and a more contented life. One of the problems in this respect is that much of the medical profession has a financial pecuniary interest in keeping people alive longer. To answer your first question directly, I believe that each individual needs to be given the required information to form their own opinion and for the medical profession to take far more notice of their patient’s wishes.
      What I am suggesting is that the medical profession start to refocus their efforts more on to Quality of Life, as against Length of Life.
      I go to the doctors, at my age (80), to assist me in living the highest quality of life for as long as I am able, not just to live longer, and that is not the same. As for eugenics, it is not in my thinking, as that is a completely different subject. Thanks for your comments once again. Regards, Phil


    2. Thanks very much for your comments and l always welcome said, regardless of their points of view. That is what mature and measured discussion is all about. To answer your first question, I will answer it like this. The entire question of Quality of Life relates to its very emphasis and any subsequent medical actions. The point I make is the medical profession is obsessed with ensuring their patient lives as long as possible and often it does not take into account their current and future quality of life and the wishes of their patient. Doctors


  3. Thanks Phil. It seems I was a bit off in what I thought you were advocating.

    This makes me all the more interested in your response to Ed’s comment.

    A simple office procedure vs. death from a malignant carcinoma: Let’s take length of life out of the consideration by imagining your sudden death at exactly the same time following the lesion’s removal by some traumatic accident. In which case would you have enjoyed a higher quality of life?


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