Who wants to live forever?

May 17, 2011 by Lydia Allen

Who wants to live forever? Well, maybe not forever, but for a really, really long time?

If one thinks about aging as a medical problem, then the problems that come along with aging seem reasonable to treat under a medical regimen. Medical symptoms that often accompany aging include heart problems, senility, and loss of muscle tone and mobility, to name a few. To treat these problems seems perfectly reasonable because, after all, a heart problem is a medical condition by most accounts.

So why is it that when speaking of the treatment of aging to extend human life expectancies, controversy arises? After all, not even 200 years ago, the average life expectancy was much lower than it is today, and so have we not already extended human life expectancies with the medical treatments we already have?

Is there something wrong with the notion of living past the age of 120 (which seems to be the genetically determined boundary for human life) when not so long ago, average people could hope, at best, to live to be 50? Now we live to be in our late 70s and early 80s, on average. Why not keep going? Why not extend people’s lives?

Perhaps it is a funding issue? Is it really ethical to spend millions of dollars on extending the lives of people who can afford the new biomedical advances when people in developing nations still live significantly shorter lives because of treatable diseases. How about the AIDS epidemic in Africa? How can we spend precious resources on helping people who have lived full lives to live longer when young people in Africa die regularly in the prime of life? Doesn’t it seem selfish and greedy to not to extend the lives of young Africans in favor of old Westerners?

Perhaps it is an issue of meaning? Some would posit that long lives may decrease overall meaning in life because, well, what would we possibly *do* with all of that time? Furthermore, average people in modern society spend so much of their adult years working, often in stressful, meaningless jobs, and who would want to extend their lives just to work more (because wouldn’t that be the burden of the middle and lower classes– to work more, raising the bar for productivity in our capitalist society?)

Perhaps it is a public policy issue? If people live longer, what will happen with Social Security programs? What will be an acceptable age of retirement? Will we allow Congressmen and Congresswomen to continue to hold positions election cycle after election cycle, or will we need to limit terms?

While these issues are all important matters to consider, I suggest that they are based on the same questions we’ve always had. What is the right way to equally distribute the products of scientific or technological advances between the “haves” and the “have nots”? What will this mean for quality of life (and living the good life)? How will this affect society at large? Should we remain cautious or should we allow ourselves to dream?

Who wants to live an extended life? Despite the problems and the concerns, I would think that most of us do.