Dr. Butler's Message to his Readers


Dr. Butler's Message to his Readers

54Dr. Ibe, the first president of ILC-Japan and Dr. ButlerWhat he did192719341953195519631968196919701975197619781979198219831984198519871988198919901991199219931994199519961997199820022003200420052007200820092010

oetcmDr. Butlers Messages to his ReadersDr. Masako OsakoExecutive Director of ILC Global Alliance SecretariatmnIn 1975, Dr. Robert N Butler published WhySurvive? Being Old in America which won him aPulitzer Prize and changed the attitude towardand public policy for old age in America. Then, in2008, at the age of 81 and only two years beforehis death, he published his seminal book titledThe Longevity Revolution, after more than threedecades of active involvement in the field of agingas a physician, scholar, government official, andeducator. By reviewing these two books, I hope toidentify Dr. Butlers message to the public.From 1978 until very recently, Dr. Butler wasa frequent visitor to Japan where he enjoyed thefriendship of many Japanese in academia,industry, and government, particularly, theMinistry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The lastsection of this essay is devoted to trying to identifywhat Dr. Butler wanted to communicate to theJapanese.Dr. Butler s Message in Why Survive?Why Survive? begins with a personalrecollection. Dr. Butlers parents divorced beforehis first birthday. He went to live with hismaternal grandparents on a chicken farm in NewJersey. Living with them during the Depression,he learned about the challenges faced by as well asthe strength and endurance of the elderly.With this as personal background, Dr. Butlertells us in Why Survive? that old age in America isoften a tragedy.Few of us like to consider it (old age) because itreminds us of our own mortality. It demands ourenergy and resources, it frightens us with illnessand deformity, it is an affront to a culture with apassion for youth and productive capacity. (p. xi)Dr. Butler advocated drastic changes in theattitude toward old age as well as policies forhealthcare, pension and housing. Over thefollowing decades, Dr. Butler challenged lawmakers, scientists and medical students toconsider how to create a society in whichAmericans could grow old gracefully. As a result ithas become a common perception in America thataging should be considered a positive.He was aware of the enormous challenges tobe faced but remained optimistic. Reflecting onthe strengths of his own grandparents, hisultimate message was that old age does not needto be a tragedy: We can create a society in whichAmericans grow old gracefully. These messagesare convincing, especially when they are told withhis resourceful grandparents as a backdrop.Dr. Butler s Message in The LongevityRevolutionIn The Longevity Revolution, Dr. Butlercontinues his argument initiated in Why Survive?The central purpose of his 2008 book is todescribe the origins, challenges, and adjustmentsto advanced longevity and the aging ofpopulations and to question contemporaryassumptions about later life.Dr. Butlers basic stance that aging should beconsidered a positive experience and that there ismuch need for change in the policies addressingolder persons did not changed over these years.However, he expanded his argument in two areas.One, he advances the concept of responsibleaging. In contrast to his previous emphasis onexpanding the rights of older persons, Dr Butlersays,I wrote this book for the thoughtful public. Because I believe in the activism of an enlightenedcitizenry, the general thrust of this book is towardan agenda for action and the presentation of abody of knowledge to support it. On a personal level, he writes: If we trulyenjoy long life, we must have good health thatnaturally supports independence and vitality and,by extension, facilitates the contributions thatolder persons make to society. This requires morethan good genes, money, and fine medical care. Itrequires that individuals take responsibility? fortheir own well-being. (p. 191-192) He encouragedexercise, abstinence from tobacco, and healthynutrition.Another new message of Butlers 2008 book isa grave concern, Could we lose the longevityrevolution? He recognizes various threats tolongevity such as environmental destruction,diseases (e.g. AIDS, pandemic flu), nuclear weapons, andour own life style. (p.373) He elaborates hisconcern: The effects of the scientific-industrialrevolution threatened the Longevity Revolution ithelped create. They include industrial pollution56 57

and environmental spoilation by depletion of theozone layer and by the greenhouse effect thatcauses warming of the earth, as well as thedangers of nuclear, chemical, and biologicalwarfare and terrorism. (p.362)Dr. Butlers Message to the JapaneseDr. Butler was a frequent visitor to Japan.Beginning in 1978, he visited Japan nearly everyyear for conferences and interviews. What werehis views on aging in Japan?In 1990, Dr, Butler co-authored an articletitled Planning for Old Age: How Japan isLooking Ahead *1 in The Washington Post andwrote, commenting on the just announcedGolden Plan," Japan has been preoccupied by thechallenge of dealing with an aging work force andrising healthcare costs, compensating for itslimited resources. And he concluded, Bothnations have populations that are steadily aging.Japan is acting on the challenge with all deliberatespeed. The U.S. is not.In The Longevity Revolution, his references toJapan are only few, probably because the volumesprimary focus is aging in America. However, withrespect to Japans declining population, he has thefollowing comment: Those countries that worryabout declining population, such as Italy,Germany, and Japan should take heart that theirdwindling numbers may further enrich theirpeople, their culture, and quality of lifeZeropopulation growth would help balance populationsize with manmade and natural resources.Dr. Butler pointed out that most of the worlds governments have policies pointed toward thereduction or stabilization of their populations. (p.339)His understanding of population challengesfaced by Japan as well as his admiration for thelong-term vision of Japanese policy makerscontinued throughout his life. As late as in June2010, at the Boom Academy (a week long seminar on agingfor journalists held at ILC USA), Dr. Butler emphasized theimportance of long-range policy planning. Wavinga slim 140-page volume of Japan in the Year2000: Preparing Japan for an Age ofInternationalization, the Aging Society andMaturity published by the Japanese EconomicPlanning Agency in 1983, he commented, Asearly as in 1983, in planning for 2000 andbeyond, the Japanese government articulatedpopulation aging together withinternationalization and technological innovationas the core factors to be embraced in strategicplanning. This is a beautiful example of a longrangevision we should all aspire to.In a similar vein, in the Global Aging Reportpublished by ILC Global Alliance in 2009, heemphasized the Japanese governments stance onpublic policy on population aging : Up to now,no nation has fully embraced the challenges posedby population aging and advancing longevity withthe possible exception of Japan. (p. 12)In Dr. Butlers death, Japan lost an importantfriend who understood Japans challenges as wellas its potential.[*1] Planning for Old Age: HowJapan is Looking Ahead (withMasako M. Osako), TheWashington Post, June 5, 1990.58 59

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