Four years ago, Barbara Ehrenreich, 76, reached the realisation that she was old enough to die. Not that the author, journalist and political activist was sick; she just didn’t want to spoil the time she had left undergoing myriad preventive medical tests or restricting her diet in pursuit of a longer life.
While she would seek help for an urgent health issue, she wouldn’t look for problems.
Now Ehrenreich felt free to enjoy herself. “I tend to worry that a lot of my friends who are my age don’t get to that point,” she tells the Guardian. “They’re frantically scrambling for new things that might prolong their lives.”
It is not a suicidal decision, she stresses. Ehrenreich has what she calls “a very keen bullshit detector” and she has done her research.
The results of this are detailed in her latest book, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, published on 10 April.
Part polemic, part autobiographical, Ehrenreich – who holds a PhD in cellular immunology – casts a skeptical, sometimes witty, and scientifically rigorous eye over the beliefs we hold that we think will give us longevity.
She targets the medical examinations, screenings and tests we’re subjected to in older age as well as the multibillion-dollar “wellness” industry, the cult of mindfulness and food fads.