Two good articles from Ronald Bailey - author of Liberation Biology - have reached the press in the past couple of days; I recommend that you read both.
By the end of this century, the typical European may attend a family reunion in which five generations are playing together. Great-great-great grandma, at 150 years old, will be as vital, with muscle tone as firm and supple, skin as elastic and glowing, as her 30-year-old great-great-granddaughter with whom she's playing tennis.
After the game, while enjoying a plate of vegetables filled with not only a solid day's worth of nutrients but medicines she needs to repair damage to her ageing cells, she'll be able to chat about some academic discipline she studied in the 1980s with as much acuity and memory as her 50-year-old great-grandson, who is studying it now.
The highest expression of human nature and dignity is to strive to overcome the limitations imposed on us by our genes, our evolution and our environment. Future generations will look back at the beginning of the 21st century with astonishment that some well-meaning and intelligent people actually wanted to stop biomedical research just to protect their cramped and limited vision of human nature. Our descendants will look back, I predict, and thank us for making their world of longer, healthier lives possible.
Americans, by their purchases in the marketplace and their advocacy in the halls of Congress for setting budget priorities, have already answered Callahan's question about the appropriate goals of medicine - full speed ahead with biomedical research! Americans are supportive of research aimed at curing the diseases of old age precisely because more of us get to our golden years. In fact, dying before age 75 is now considered by most Americans to be "premature." Even young people favor research because they realize that they will one day be old, so cures developed for old people now will be available for them when they need them. (Not to mention that some young people may actually like to avoid having their parents and grandparents disappear into the undiscovered country.) Also, spending on biomedical research, both private and public, enjoys widespread public support because health is something we, as members of a liberal pluralist society, can all agree is an essential precondition for anyone to pursue any of the diverse ends they think make for a good life.
Callahan despairs that the more healthy life Americans enjoy, the more we want. He inveighs against this "abolition of fatalism," nostalgically noting, "In the past we reconciled ourselves to aging and death because we could do nothing." He adds, "It seems to me that the whole trajectory of modern medical research has been basically to treat [death] as if it were an accident. As far as I know, there are no fatal diseases that the NIH (National Institutes of Health) finds acceptable. The NIH is not in favor of immortality, at least officially, but there are no diseases that kill people that it is prepared to tolerate."
Sounds about right to me.
There are any number of unsavory types in the world willing to tell you what you can and can't do with your own life - up to and including mandating the time and manner of your death. The misguided - and, frankly, evil - people who oppose progress towards healthy life extension will undoubtably lose. Eventually. Luddites are always overwhelmed by research and reality. Eventually. However, attempts to hold back progress can cause very real damage by slowing things down. In this modern age, this means enlisting risk-averse Western government, bioethics and related anti-progress movements to throw as many roadblocks in the way as possible. In the case of healthy life extension research, a day of delay means another day in which more than 100,000 people die and hundreds of millions more suffer the pain and disability of age-related conditions.
Many people in the transhumanist and futurist communities see radical life extension as inevitable. It is indeed inevitable given present rates of technological development - but not necessarily soon enough for those reading this post in 2006. We must work hard to ensure that our future includes access to effective anti-aging technologies, to ensure that the first healthy life extension medicine is developed in time to help us overcome age-related frailty, suffering and death.
The future is what you make of it. If you want to live a much longer, healthier life, then you must step up and do something to support and encourage appropriate medical research today.