The Persistent Mistaken Belief that Rejuvenation Will Be Only for the Wealthy

There is something about using medicine to treat aging that inspires otherwise sensible people to hold all sorts of obviously mistaken beliefs, utterly disconnected from the way in which the world actually works. For example that only the wealthy will ever have access to rejuvenation therapies developed in the next few decades. Yet these treatments will be simply another new form of medicine, no different in essence from the new forms of medicine introduced with great regularity over the past century. Each new advance was briefly expensive and unreliable, with only limited availability, and then within a decade or two became widely available, more reliable, and much less expensive. This is how progress works, driven by the economics of the marketplace.

Our age is characterized by the fact that there is very little in the way of technology that can only be afforded by the very wealthy - and next to none of that is in the field of medical science. Look at those people claiming that future medicines will be available only to the wealthy, and place them in the 1940s; have them argue that soon to arrive heart surgery and other treatments for heart disease will only be available to the very wealthy elite, who will restrict access for the masses. It is the same argument, mistaken for the same reasons.

There are many obvious differences between the attempt to use science to cheat death that was mounted nearly a century ago in Russia and the one that is attracting support in Silicon Valley today. Human knowledge, and with it technology, has moved on greatly. Advances in neuroscience, information technology and artificial intelligence have shifted the focus from cryonics to the more radical prospect of freeing the human mind from its fleshly envelope. At the same time, genetic engineering and nanotechnology have been hailed as opening up the possibility of halting or reversing physical aging. According to some of the boldest promoters of technological immortality, there is a real prospect that these new sciences will make it possible for humans to live forever.

While the mystic who inspired Russian techno-immortalists dreamt of resurrecting everyone, his disciples were more selective. It was exceptional human beings such as Lenin they were most interested in reviving. Any remedy for mortality would also be highly selective today. Russian prophets of a future without death imagined the advance of humanity being planned as part of a communist planned economy, while those in Silicon Valley are ardent enthusiasts for capitalism. But whatever the economic system, life extension is a costly business whose benefits will in practice be distributed very unequally.

The prospect of a society in which existing inequalities are accentuated, with the richest living several times longer than the mass of the population, is not exactly enticing. Nor would such a brutally divided society be likely to be stable.

Some people like to twist the narrative to support their own strange views. Longevity-enhancing treatments will not be expensive once they have passed their initial period of unreliable, limited early clinical development. They are not like surgeries, in which a team of highly skilled and comparatively rare individuals must be hands-on for the better part of a day. They are more like infusions or injections, in which a much more common and less skilled medical professional performs a simple operation in a matter of minutes to introduce the treatment into the body. So I foresee thousands, not hundreds of thousands of dollars as the ballpark price per treatment.



I have to confess that while I can understand the political reasons by their uneasiness with the unrealistic prospect of only the wealthy having access to anti-aging therapy, there's nevertheless something grizzly about it.

Consider what they're saying - that they'd rather that everybody die young than have some people enjoy life extension. In fact, they don't even seem to care if that minority is the wealthy or some other select group, considering the invocation of communist elites in this piece.

Posted by: Therapsid at February 11th, 2014 11:43 AM

So many people seem to live their lives via defeatist attitudes or strawmen arguments. It's quite baffling.

Posted by: Ian at February 11th, 2014 7:10 PM

I frequently browse reddit, and the topic of life extension pops-up somewhat often. Bill Gates did an "Ask Me Anything" yesterday and someone asked him about life extension:

"darung 2214 points 1 day ago

Hey Bill, have you made any plans to artificially prolong your life?


Bill's response:

"thisisbillgates[S] 2723 points 1 day ago

No I don't. Other people think about that but I wouldn't want to extend my last few years unless that is happening for most people."

This strikes me as very...narrow minded. Of course, if he helped make it happen, it would eventually happen for most people. Someone else pointed this out later in the same thread, which can be read here:

It is the 5th question from the top.

Posted by: Robert at February 11th, 2014 10:28 PM

Rejuvenation medicine would make medicine as a whole substantially cheaper. Most medicine, as things stand now, entails treatments which do little about the underlying causes, and simply modify how the body reacts to those causes to make them a little less dangerous. So you have people taking statins or diuretics or whatever for decades, because no matter how many they take, the underlying problem is still there. This adds up to a lot of money. Whereas if you have a treatment that deals with the underlying causes, all you need is a single course of treatment, and the problem goes away for about 40 years or so. Which will mean that even if rejuvenation treatments are quite expensive, they'll still be substantially cheaper than medicine today.

Posted by: Arcanyn at February 12th, 2014 12:48 AM

Many advocating for extension are economc conservative. The same conservatives who don't support single payer despite the clear economic data. Its not a stretch to imagine the same people will want to deny others equal access. I support the research, but I'm fully aware that universal access will be denied and will be a fight.

Posted by: Reality check at February 12th, 2014 1:16 AM

@robert Thanks for sharing. The most interesting thing imo is: "I wouldn't want to extend my last few years". He still views life extension as prolonging years of ill health.

Posted by: johnathan at February 12th, 2014 8:29 AM

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