The economic case for curing aging is a part of the general utilitarian case for aggressive investment of time, attention and capital into healthy life extension - minimizing suffering and death makes things better all round. It's something of a sad statement on the world in which we live in that there is any debate on this truth as an axiom of progress.
Ageing is after all a root cause for many expensive chronic diseases like cancer, stroke, dementias, arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. Reducing ageing even slightly would reduce them significantly. In general it is better to go for underlying causes of illness than symptoms, as demonstrated by how the discovery of Helicobacter pylori enabled turning chronic and expensive ulcers into something treatable and rare. In fact, increasing lifespan by seven years would be a far greater gain than even totally eliminating cancer or heart disease. Beyond the medical savings longer lives also mean more productive work, more consumption and more human value - a larger economy. Many of the demographic pressures would be lessened, producing further multiplicative effects.
The basic idea is that life extension isn't just individually good, but also causes huge economic benefits - benefits likely to outweigh any costs caused by people living longer. Sure, we have to rewamp pension systems and construct a new concept of the path of life, but that is challenges far preferable to the enormous amount of suffering caused by ageing. If we could fix mortality to save the 100,000 dead each day it would be great, but even a modest gain in healthy life expectancy has a big leverage.
It was interesting to see the high noon confrontation between [Aubrey de Grey] and some of the authors of the paper mentioned above at last week's conference. On one end of the street the lone gunslinger Aubrey the Beard, on the other side the fearsome biogerontologist brothers. Of course, the real shootout has not yet started, this was just a few warning shots getting the bystanders to stand back. Much of the disagreement was due to the different conceptual approaches (engineering project vs. scientific study). But whoever is left standing afterwards, the idea that ageing is not immutable is going to prevail.
Which is a very good thing; moving healthy life extension science and debate on from "what is this" and "why do it at all" into struggles over implementation, approach and degree should be regarded as a major achievement. Once conservatives in the field traverse the hump of acknowledging that extending the healthy human life span is plausible and desirable, a defense of moderation is going to be increasingly hard to pull off in the face of ethical and scientific justifications for far more than a few years here and a few years there.
So bring on the heated debate over how scientists should proceed to enable us to live longer, healthier lives - the more people fired up and ready to get out there and prove their points, the better.
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