Daniel Callahan is among those who oppose efforts to extend human life. He holds mistaken views on the outcome of longevity-enhancing therapies, thinking that they will extend the period of frailty and illness rather than extend healthy, vigorous life. In this he is determinedly ignoring what scientists in the field have been saying - loudly in many cases - for many years. Unfortunately he is not alone in this selective deafness: the average fellow on the street also thinks that extending life through medical science means being older for longer, not being younger for longer. This is a major hurdle still to be overcome on the way to gaining more support for medical research and development aimed at slowing or reversing aging.
Mainstream aging research neither promises radical immortality nor seeks to keep old people sick longer. Aging is a driving factor in the most prevalent and costly chronic diseases. Research indicates that interventions slowing aging delay the onset of these diseases. Therefore, they extend not only life span but also health span, the disease-free and functional period of life.
Fundamentally, the goals of aging research are not dissimilar from efforts to prevent or treat Alzheimer's or other chronic diseases in that they both seek to improve quality of life in the elderly. The difference is that interventions in aging may prevent not just one but a range of debilitating diseases simultaneously.
Mr. Callahan's concern about older people crowding out younger people for jobs is also unfounded. We saw warnings of this kind before when women began to join the work force. A result was that women added nearly $3 trillion to the economy, and businesses owned by women employ nearly 16 percent of the work force.
If health at any age is highly valued, then a healthier older population is worth its weight in gold. Aging science is likely to be the next revolution in public health; it should be embraced, not feared. Anti-aging research is not, as Daniel Callahan apparently believes, about prolonging the wheelchair-and-walker phase of life but about preserving youthful health and vigor so that there will be far fewer of the elderly in poor health.
I'm always amazed at the number of people who vigorously support the search for better prevention and treatment of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's but who find moral difficulties in the search for better prevention and treatment of those plus a host of other maladies, all simultaneously. That is what anti-aging research is about.