The “magic pill” debate

Nov 27, 2011 by Tamara Roberts

We recently had a very theatrical and entertaining presentation about the possibility of a pill to prolong life, and what that alternative could do to future generations.  It was a hypothetical situation, but it is one that we have returned to in class and speakers of the Centers for Values have also alluded to.  The debate seems to be split as to the harm or benefit of prolonging life on the basis of policy, economic, and ecological issues.  There have also been concerns, if such a drug existed, as to who would receive it.  How would ordinary people pay for a drug that was so expensive that only the elite would have access to it?  This issue seems to be a hot button topic, but haven’t we, as a society, already experienced this exact phenomenon?

Laura Cartensen, speaking in conjunction with the Center for Vital Longevity, had many optimistic ideas of living well longer.  She also showed statistics of our life span and the exponential increase since the turn of the 20th century.  We already have the “pill” that increases our life span in our abundance of healthy food, medical technology such as heart transplants, etc.  We don’t have to fear on a daily basis for our survival from diseases like pneumonia and influenza.  Hasn’t this debate about lengthening our life span already taken place?  I believe it has.  Medicine will not stop innovation just because of fear of economic issues or the over-crowding of the planet.

As far as the controversy over the availability of the “pill,” we have already had that debate, as well.  Transplant lists and debates over who should receive them first have been a point of contention in the medical community for some time.  Buying organs on the black market and being able to afford health insurance for procedures necessary to prolong life are all already debated in the public arena.  Precedent on these issues has been set, and even though, procedures are always evolving, a general consensus has been set.

We aren’t arguing anything new.  These debates have been ongoing for some time.  I argue that this hypothetical “pill” is already available in the medical research that is now becoming common practice.  Our society will live longer.  Our children will have the opportunity to be centenarians.  Instead of arguing about whether this should be possible, perhaps we should be discussing how to make longevity beneficial to all walks of society.