Why We Need a War on Aging

Two posts on a recent presentation by philosophers Julian Savulescu and Nick Bostrom, and biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey:

Savulescu, Bostrom and de Grey: Why we need a war on aging

There is no normal human life span, or if there is, it was very short. Life-expectancy for the ancient Romans was about 23 years; today the average life-expectancy in the world is close to 64 years. For the past 150 years, best-performance life-expectancy has increased at a very steady rate of 3 months per year.

Why We Need a War on Aging

Many people fear that a longer life would result in boredom and a gradual loss of meaning. This would be more likely if one was a solitary Methuselah. But in a world where many of those close to us also lived longer, the greatest source of human well-being - deep human relations - would remain intact and arguably grow richer as that network expanded across generations.

...

And surely it is up to individuals to decide whether their lives come to lack meaning. For our part, we would take the longer life.

Our goal should be more, much more, longer and better life. We need a war on aging.

Billions of dollars have been spent preparing for a flu epidemic. The Spanish flu killed 20 million people. Aging kills 30 million every year. It is the most under-researched cause of death and suffering relative to its significance. Whatever breakthroughs occur in medicine or health care generally, at the moment we face the inevitability of ageing. That might not be necessary.

As I remarked a few days ago, the argument for longevity science to avert mass suffering and death gets less traction than it should. People care in the abstract, but unquestioningly accept what they have always known to be the case, no matter how horrible - so the deaths of tens of millions each year receives far less attention than less usual and much smaller disasters.

Comments

An example of a smaller, less usual disaster that might help rhetorically:

Your mom (/wife/husband/sister/etc) is dying right now.

Posted by: Thom Blake at February 6th, 2009 1:06 PM

Aubrey always makes such great quotes. The ReGenesis fan in me loves the Spanish Flu reference.

Posted by: Tycio at February 8th, 2009 8:19 PM

Who would fund this war on aging, governments? Since older people mostly are retired and consuming government provided benefits, don't governments presently have a strongly vested interest in seeing everyone dead as soon as possible after retiring and becoming net tax consumers, especially for Medicare?

The main activity for many retirees is lobbying for more generous government benefits for themselves. Younger people in the workforce do not welcome older people who might compete with them for jobs. And they have no interest in extending healthy lifespans, at least until they retire themselves.

Posted by: Stuart Scott at February 9th, 2009 2:03 PM

Stuart,

Curing aging might mean that there aren't any 'older people' in the physical sense - and possibly nobody (or many fewer people) will need to retire. And more working people that don't have young children to support means more disposable income, therefore more jobs to go around.

Posted by: Thom Blake at February 19th, 2009 3:05 PM

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