Setting Limits: Medical Goals in an Aging Society

Daniel Callahan

(Georgetown University Press, 1995)

In this wise and thought-provoking review of present attitudes and public policy toward aging and death, Callahan, cofounder of The Hastings Center, faults our health care system for devoting disproportionate resources and technology on extending the lives of the elderly regardless of the quality of their lives. He also warns against the social and economic consequences of the increased ratio of old people in the population. Medical care, he suggests, should be allocated based on standards of need and priorities to meet them over a “normal life-span opportunity range,” limiting the use of new technology to that which improves the quality of life. He also discusses the ethics of withholding artificial sustenance from the terminally ill, euthanasia and assisted suicide. “The proper question is not whether we are succeeding in giving a longer life to the aged,” he argues, but “whether we are making of old age a decent and honorable time of life.”
“Callahan addresses the problems of aging in a clear, comprehensive, sensitive, and compassionate manner. This is a pivotal work that poses hard questions and proposes provocative answers. Setting Limits promises to be the benchmark for future moral, medical and policy discussions of aging.”―New York Times Book Review