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Thursday, July 08, 2004

And Crazy Old Men

Re-evaluating Age
by Lawrence Cranberg, PhD
July 6, 2004
Texas Geriatric Society

Having just passed my 87th birthday, I find myself wondering why I feel as good as ever, remember as well as ever, and work as hard and as usefully as ever, if not more so. Yes my hearing is not as good as it used to be, but I can hear perfectly well in normal conversation and on the telephone, and it is only in noisy situations, or when I try to communicate with someone not in my close vicinity that there is any problem.

So why do my friends and relatives act as though I am something special to be as well off as I am? The reason, of course, is that we are in a remarkable transition to a new level of life experience in which "aging" and its disadvantages are now being postponed very substantially, so that familiar signposts of the past no longer mean what they used to mean. It seems absurd now to think of "retiring" in one's sixties, or even seventies or eighties or nineties, or by any particular age for that matter.

To be sure not everyone is benefiting equally from the developments in health care that produce this advance. But uneven development and individual differences are the laws of development in nature, and always will be. So one need not be surprised if one is ahead of the crowd, just grateful.

If medical science and advanced social health policy put one on the leading edge of health improvement and longevity, it does not follow that our legal system and law-enforcement systems are keeping track, and that is an aspect of aging that is much less comforting.

Science and Law have never marched in step as everyone knows - the case of Galileo and the Inquisition being the classical example, and the same is very much the case today. A trivial example. I was interviewing a lawyer who invited me to her office to discuss representation. As I described the situation, I repeated a few words for emphasis. She interrupted me to point out that I was repeating myself, and to my utter astonishment told me I was "a crazy old man"!

Obviously this young lawyer was aware of my age, and even more so of the familiar stereotypes about aging, and tried to put me in my place according to her standards. The nagging question of our times is how common is this kind of put-down among lawyers, law-enforcement officials, and courts, and how far does it go in current practice?.

According to Ron Panzer, the exceptionally informed and eloquent student of the subject, who is President of Hospice Patients Alliance of Rockford, MI, we are confronting what he calls "The Greatest Civil Rights Struggle of our Times". His coinage of the term "Eldercide" scarily epitomizes what he observes happening:

murder of older persons on a large scale that is being almost totally overlooked by law-enforcement. Come to think of it, I cannot recall a news story in this country about the prosecution of anyone for the murder of a person my age or older.

Every law enforcement agency makes choices in allocating limited resources, and given a choice between prosecuting someone for a murder victim in their twenties versus one in their nineties, the choice is obvious, but should it be? Can we, must we tolerate "Eldercide" in a modern, civilized society? Must our latter birthdays be occasions for concern that not only will be called "crazy old men", but that the law will take a holiday as a birthday celebration?.

Lawrence Cranberg, Ph. D.,
Texas Geriatric Society,
Elder Justice Coalition (of Washington, D. C.)
Elder Justice Coalition of Texas

[note from Ron Panzer: I am honored to be complimented by Professor Cranberg, a well-published scientist with innumerable accomplishments. See Dr. Cranberg's
website at:

posted by Vetzine


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