A View From the Cage of Preconceived Limits

Beware of people bearing either / or choices, especially when both options are terrible. Nothing in life is binary, and there exist no inescapable boxes nor walls that cannot be torn down. You'll always find other choices, other paths forward, if you care to search hard enough.

Here is a charming either / or choice, posed by someone with surprisingly little vision for a medical research:

Controversially, Brown also suggests that wiping out cancer and heart disease might be misguided, because these are swifter, and therefore relatively desirable, ways to die. It would be easy to think him heartless, were it not for his moving and vivid descriptions in the book of watching his own father die from pancreatic cancer. Brown writes how he “returned one last time to the hospice on a vile rainy day - I hadn't seen him for a week - and it was like something from a horror movie. I had never seen someone so dead who was still alive.”

Brown admits “the experience of seeing my father in pain and being in a degraded state was very difficult. But, although it was awful, in the grander scheme, it was a relatively easy death. My father had expressed a fear of dying with dementia, and so that would have been much harder, and that's partly why I believe we shouldn't remove these acute forms of death (like cancer). We'll just be exposing ourselves to longer, more drawn-out forms of death.

It is utterly false to present a choice of working to prevent dementia or working to prevent cancer and heart disease. All can be done - there's no shortage of resources in the world. But this fellow is well with the cage of his preconceived limits: in his world, we must all suffer and die from some age-related disease. Not doing so isn't even a possibility. How odd to hear a researcher argue this point; one might almost think about pushing him back a century to argue about whether consumption or yellow fever is best to be adopted as the death of choice, and therefore no cures should be sought.

We live in an age on the verge of repairing the damage of aging, preventing all age-related disease, and extending the healthy human lifespan through other means besides. How can any medical researcher be debating which age-related degeneration should be left alone as the accepted mode of suffering and death? The strongest bars are found in the cages of the mind that we build for ourselves by accepting the world in its present form.

Ultimately, limits to action and endeavor - and in this case, limits to what can be achieved through medical research - stem from our preconceptions of what those limits should be. An incurable disease, known to all as a death sentence, is only an incurable disease until a group of vision raises the funds, performs the work, and develops a therapy. So too with age-related degeneration, suffering and death. One person's notion of the absolute wall to progress is a red flag to those more inclined to charge ahead and make progress happen.

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