YES FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
NO FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Would a signi;cantly longer
life span be a good thing?
is a fellow in cardiology at Duke
Center, and the
author of the book
Changed the End
of Life (St. Martin’s
Paul Root Wolpe
is the Asa Griggs
of Bioethics and
the director of the
Center for Ethics at
SINCE THE middle of the ;;th century, the human life span has almost
doubled—from the mid-;;s to around ;; in high-income countries. This
represents the single greatest advance in human history. Before recent times,
there was little we could do to avert death, and now doctors have innumerable
technologies to help people live a long life.
It isn’t clear just how much longer we can continue to extend our life span,
but I believe that any such efforts would be a good thing. However, life span
extension needs to be coupled with improvements in management of chronic
diseases and other conditions that increase disability. The emphasis needs to
be on a disability-free life span rather than simply ho w long people can live. The
focus should be on improving physical condition, but also on maintaining
In previous times the economy relied heavily on work that required physical
strength, yet increasingly the economy is knowledge-based. This shift makes
experience and knowledge, which grow with time, the most valuable commodities. A longer life span will also allow people more time to develop skills that
they might need for more-technical jobs. Careers such as medicine, law and
engineering require long periods of training for people to become adept at
them. A longer life span will allow people to then use those skills for a much
longer period of time.
As a physician, I know that, for most people, each and every second that
they spend alive is valuable. It allows people to make it to their grandchildren’s
birthdays, see technology evolve to achieve things they would have never imagined and explore the vast beauty of our world.
However, for life span extension to be a good thing, it is important to focus
on not just the quantity of time, but the quality of the time gained. There does
not need to be a trade-off between those two. With high-quality research and a
healthy lifestyle, both quality and quantity of life can be achieved. C
THE DESIRE to live a long, healthy life is natural. But there is wisdom in the
human life span. The utopian vision of extreme life extension is a fantasy, and
a dangerous one at that.
There is a reason evolution turns over generations. Innovation is overwhelmingly the province of the young and promotes novel ways of thinking.
Older people tend to be far more conservative in their thinking.
Extreme life extension advocates often argue why they want to live for hundreds of years, but I have never heard a single convincing argument why it
would be better for society as a whole. Because it would not be.
Laborers who hate their job will not want to work for another ;;; years
instead of retiring at ;;. And if these laborers do retire, what awaits them in
their follo wing ;;; years that is so compelling? In addition, young workers will
be asked to disproportionately pay for the significant health and functional
needs of the elderly. Since the enormous ;;- to ;;;-year-old age group will own
the bulk of the wealth, older people will control the government, politics and
industry, and their problems will get priority. Young workers will resent the
needs and privileges of the powerful elderly (as some do today). Age warfare will
Will living to ;;; make us happier? Extreme life extension will not solve our
social problems: poverty, war, famine, nationalism, fundamentalism. In Japan,
an aging population has led to economic decline and a host of social problems.
As life expectancy has increased, the result has been an increased culture of
youth. The elderly are not elevated and respected for their wisdom, but instead
are often warehoused in retirement communities. Why would that change?
I would like to live a long and healthy life. But extreme life extension is a
selfish fantasy. Let us strive for healthy, meaningful lives in the time we have,
and focus on leaving a better world for the next generation. C
Should you read the book
before you see the movie?
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