Is Aging a Medical Condition?

Is aging a medical condition? I think I can safely assume that much of the audience here fall into the "yes it is, and let's get on with curing it already" demographic. However, a large segment of the scientific and medical community don't agree with us - some of the important points of this debate are put forward in a SAGE Crossroads debate from earlier this year:

Today's debate is going to focus on whether aging is a disease, and what difference that makes - whether it is classified as a disease or not.

The focus, as might be expected at this venue, is on the politics of public funding. If something is not defined as a disease (or a medical condition) then it won't be eligable for government funding. Regulation based on these same definitions also hampers private efforts.

Randall Parker weighs in on this issue with post at FuturePundit that demolishes a recent (and rather weak) claim that aging is not a medical condition:

A UC Irvine scientist claims aging is not a medical condition.

I disagree! So do many others. Aging is a medical condition because an aged body does not function properly. A body that does not function properly has a disease. A disease is a medical condition.

Is gene damage a medical condition? More generally, is brain damage a medical condition? Yes, of course. If you have something in your body that is damaged then you have a medical condition.

I am amazed to see scientists promoting a naturalistic fallacy that if some process is natural it must be normal and must not be treated. Imagine making that argument about, say, a troubled pregnancy: "Sorry maam, we can't intervene to save you or your baby from preeclampsia because in our view your illness is a natural result of an interaction between your genes and your environment." Or imagine saying this about a bacterial infection: "We can't give your daughter an antibiotic to kill the Group A streptococcal infections that is causing scarlet fever because infections are natural and have been happening for all of human history. So she'll just have to die since there is no medical condition here." You'd be thought either crazy or incredibly unethical if you said such things. But today too many scientists, doctors, and members of the public at large think of aging as an inevitability to be embraced as part of the natural order. Well, aging is not inevitable. It is one big medical condition that we need to cure. Aging reversal will some day become possible and we ought to be trying much harder to make that day come as soon as possible.

Exactly, although I usually use anthrax or smallpox as an example. It's perfectly natural to die from either, but I don't see people rushing to defend them. We can already evisage the technological capabilities required to cure aging, and we should be working hard to make them a reality.


Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.