It is strange, but the argument for greater support of longevity science as a way to avoid staggering ongoing rates of disability and death doesn't carry a great deal of weight with most people.
Let's look at the dimensions of the human holocaust that we call "natural death."
The death toll in the Year 2001 was worst in India. Almost 9 million casualties. The bodies were piled nearly as high in China. The United States fell in third, with 2.4 million fatalities. 21 nations lost over half a million lives, each. These 21 countries represented all cultures, races, creeds, and continents. The human death toll in the Year 2001 from all 227 nations on Earth was nearly 55 million people, of which about 52 million were not directly caused by human action, that is, not accidents, or suicides, or war. They were "natural" deaths.
If this argument worked, we'd be done already. But people will accept any terrible situation if it's all they have ever known. Sad but true. On that note, I notice that bioethicist Colin Farrelley is hitting on the argument by megadeaths in a couple of recent posts:
Whether it be the "Black Plague", small pox, malaria, cancer or heart disease, human populations are susceptible to a diverse array of chronic and infectious diseases that threaten both the lives of individuals and the prosperity of nations. And so it is imperative that we think rationally about how we can best respond to these diverse threats to our health and survival. We need accurate data concerning the probable risks of disease facing the world's populations this century and an open mind about the potential strategies for dealing with these threats.
The greatest threat facing the world's existing 6.7+ billion population are the chronic diseases associated with aging. In the year 2005, approximately 55 million people died. Of that number, 35 million died of chronic disease. That number is twice the number of deaths due to infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria), maternal and perinatal conditions, and nutritional deficiencies combined. 35 million deaths a year dwarf the estimated deaths caused by climate change - approximately 150 000 deaths.
The diseases associated with aging are not, contrary to popular perception, only a problem for people living in the developed world. Indeed, being vulnerable to disability and frailty is a much greater disadvantage if one lives in a poor society with no decent health care or pension, as the link between income and "ability to work" is much more direct. So the chronic diseases associated with aging are a problem for all societies, not only the richest countries in the world.
One last point to make to illustrate the magnitude of the problem of chronic disease. It is estimated that between the mid-14th century and mid-17th century, the "Black Death" plague killed approximately 25 million people. This means that the current deaths caused by chronic disease in just one year outnumber the deaths caused by 3 centuries of the "Black Death" plague. This clearly illustrates why the imperative to combat chronic disease is one of the greatest imperatives ever facing humanity. And since aging is the major cause of these afflictions, one of the greatest moral imperatives facing humanity today is to tackle aging itself so that we can avoid the unprecedented rise in chronic disease that is expected to befall the world's populations this century.
All true: yet how to proceed armed with these obvious facts to which people are willfully oblivious?