Immortality News: A Novel
From Chapter 9:
It was mid-afternoon on Saturday, June 5. Stephan "Steph" Klamperer, Director of the Physicians Review Board of the Sensible Care Health Maintenance Organization, sat at the back table of Bistro Pesto. He was waiting to meet someone.
He was finishing a piece in The Wall Street Journal, an article entitled, "Over 65: A Sinkhole for Health Dollars?" He recalled that some wags in his organization, mainly those who had to spend phone time with physicians or their secretaries, called him "Strep" instead of "Steph." He didn’t give a good goddamn. It was a tribute to his strength of will. He was faithful to reason, and his head was not easily turned by every dribbling columnist. To anyone who shrieked about his health care cost-cutting, he would say: Read the studies. Inform yourself. The quality of health care wasn't on the line, it was the whole health care system, which would be able to heal people only so long as it could afford to heal people. Without pruners like himself, the whole health care tree would choke itself in overgrowth, and die.
Sometimes he thought it was his German ancestry that bred into him a sense of what was workable, that made him so realistic. Not whimsical like the Irish, or hot-blooded like the Italians or the Latin Americans. Of course, the master race theories were only that, theories, and he knew better than to speculate in public, but you had to admit that some people could be dragged off track more easily than others, and you had to wonder why. Take his wife, Carmela. A mix of Greek and Mexican ancestors, both types well known to let their emotions run away with them—and Carmela's emotions were certainly exploding out of control these days, as she tended to their son in the hospital. The woman could not seem to get a grip on herself.
All you could do in any situation, home or business, was to make the most reasonable decision. It was obvious to Stephan that he had been asked to direct the Physicians Review Board because he was strong enough to keep his head when all the others were losing theirs. He was calm enough to make a dispassionate choice based on the treatment statistics. He could dismiss irrational appeals for the dreck they turned out to be. He had a gift for returning to essentials. Was there a serious statistical chance of increased duration of life, or not? If not, then better get the lamenting over with. The sooner a person realized that human beings were not designed to live forever, the better the chance of a rational medical decision. The health insurance world was besieged by hysterics who clung to life at any cost, then tried to blame reasonable men like himself for rejecting their preposterous claims.... He envisioned a national slogan, SOME PRICES ARE TOO HIGH FOR PERFECTION, which could surely bring the newly formed Fiscal Independence Party into play for next year's presidential race. It was human nature to expect perfection, he supposed. But human nature just wasn’t going to get it.
From Chapter 17:
Stephan pulled out his personal note pad, embossed with the Sensible Care logo. It was one of those more recent nature-centered logos, in this case a tiny cradle suspended from a branch in full leaf. It was a moral, for those who could read it: Sensible people accept the fact that everyone's bough will eventually break.
Stephan's esophagus and stomach lining surged with indignation. He could feel it completely, at last, this closing anger that would resolve the matter. It was good, right. The notion had been absurd from the beginning. He had humored the woman [Melanie Nash-Dennison, a pharmaceutical executive who had asked Stephan to join her in quietly introducing to the market a secret miracle formula] to bring her under his control, where he could make certain, and continue to make certain, that her scheme would never reach the market.
The gall. Some magic potion to keep you healthy forever, no matter how you chose to conduct yourself? If it were true—and surely it wasn’t—it would produce a world full of drinking, cavorting, gluttonous, smoking, snorting, pill-popping, murderous, whoring fools, even more irresponsible and irrational than the ones we have today. Order, good sense, reason, self-discipline, everything that made life worthwhile would vanish. The few decent people left would be overwhelmed, their lives ruined. Didn't Mel realize that the continuing terror of death was the only reason the human race ever had to use any self-restraint? … He wrote beneath the cradle in his tidy handwriting, When the bough breaks.