The Edmonton Aging Symposium is underway; congratulations are due to the hardworking volunteers who organized the event.
The degeneration which occurs with age was once thought to be the result of causes too complicated to ever understand and ultimately not amenable to medical treatment. However, new discoveries reveal common mechanisms involving the accumulation of damage are shared by most age-related diseases and that new technologies have the potential to repair that damage, restoring health and function to the aging body.
If you missed your chance to register and view the symposium presentations via streaming video, I'm sure it'll be available for purchase or download later. Given the attendees, I'm also sure we'll be seeing reports from the symposium soon enough, but here are a couple of articles from the mainstream Canadian press that surfaced today:
International doctors and scientists met in Edmonton Friday to discuss how to repair the damage of aging.
The aging symposium looks at the types of damage that accumulate with age, what can be done to slow or repair it, as well as future therapies. Other sessions look at the economic costs to society of aging.
As millions of baby boomers worldwide approach their senior years, there is no better time to get the word out about new ways to live longer, said Kevin Perrott, a biomechanical engineer who is organizing the meeting.
"If we all live to be 150, the hospitals would all be full and everyone would still say it certainly went by fast," says Daniel Callahan, from the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, N.Y. "The only case for extending lifespans is that some people want it and that doesn't seem to be good enough."
At the symposium, Callahan will debate the ethics of "life extension" -- he has long attacked as "utopian" the arguments of those who say that science will find ways to keep elderly populations healthy. More importantly, he says, an older population will do nothing to solve today's social ills and could cause more problems. "I don't see it making any contributions at all to society beyond satisfying the wish of some individuals to live a long life. It's often said that the elderly have a wisdom to contribute. Well, I'm 76 and I don't notice that among people my age that we have any special wisdom," he says.
For proponents of life extension, the idea of keeping people alive without keeping them healthy is irresponsible. However, they think funding research that might help people live longer, healthier lives is vital to stave off the rising costs associated with caring for aging populations. Many also believe that extending lifespans is in line with society's core values.
"If you judge by what people do to improve their health, they value their lives highly," says Gregory Stock, director of UCLA's medicine, technology and society program. "So adding to your period of vitality is something that most people would certainly do. If there was a pill that would do that, it's clear that everyone would take it."
Stock will face off against Callahan in a debate over public funding for life extension. He argues that scientists must take risks, even if the ultimate outcome of their research is still unknown.
It has long struck me that some of the more vocal opponents of healthy life extension simply don't enjoy being alive all that much. Couple that to the strange delusion that people like you and I must wait for the elite to approve our actions and intents, and there you go. Rather sad, really.