The progression of degenerative aging is presently the greatest cause of pain and suffering in the world, so why are we not all greatly in favor of working towards medical technologies capable of preventing the detrimental results of aging? Beyond removing frailty and disease, a side-effect of therapies capable of halting all age-related dysfunction through the repair of accumulated damage to cells and tissues is we'll all live very much longer in good health and youthful vigor.
The yearning for eternal life and youth has been a preoccupation of humans for millennia. Yet quite a few people remain unconvinced that cheating death is a good idea. For every promising advance in cancer treatment or hip replacement, a chorus chimes in with a warning about being careful what we wish for: Sure, we're curing diseases and easing pain, but perhaps the cost - in health and in dollars - is too high. This approach isn't just wrong; it's almost criminally obtuse. These objections conflate the physical process of aging with the mere passage of years. Our quest must be - as it has been for all of recorded history - not merely to live a long time, but to slow and stop the process of aging. Eternal youth, not just long life.
The current medical paradigm is to go after each individual disease as it emerges in a perpetual game of therapeutic whac-a-mole. The result is that individuals begin to accumulate infirmities. About 50 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are being treated for five different chronic conditions. This is ultimately a losing proposition, because aging bodies accrue more and more lethal and disabling conditions that compete to kill them. Patients routinely survive health crises that would have done them in even a generation earlier, but to what end? If an older patient doesn't die of a heart attack, prostate cancer could do him in. If a stroke doesn't get her, the Alzheimer's will. Ultimately, more than 25 percent of Medicare spending goes toward the 5 percent of beneficiaries who die each year.
There is a better way. We must look beyond individual pathologies to their root, aging itself. If anti-aging treatments can maintain people in the state of health of the average 30-year-old, the onset of chronic illnesses will be forestalled and health care and pension expenditures will be much lower. And it increasingly looks like we may actually be able to slow or even stop the aging process, to the tremendous benefit of humanity.
If bodies can be kept young, they will be less vulnerable to diseases at any chronological age. If 55 really were physiologically the new 45, the incidence of cardiovascular disease would go down by about 50 percent and the prevalence of cancer would be cut by nearly 80 percent. Bodies age in much the same way that automobiles do. In the course of roaming around the world, they accumulate damage, which, if not repaired, leads to a breakdown. Unlike automobiles, human bodies do have some capacity for fending off hurts and for self-repair, but those mechanisms eventually wear out. Fortunately, researchers are making considerable progress in figuring out credible ways to repair the damage and thus slow down the aging process.