Élie Metchnikoff was a noted figure in the first days of modern immunology, with much of his most important work carried out in the closing decades of the 19th century. He is credited with coining the term gerontology for the study of aging, and was the author of The Prolongation of Life: Optimistic Studies - which through the miracles of modern technology one can now read online for free. I strongly recommend perusing the section entitled "Should We Try to Prolong Human Life?" as it shows how little arguments over the use of medicine to enhance human longevity have changed in the past century:
Although the duration of the life of man is one of the longest amongst mammals, men find it too short. From the remotest times the shortness of life has been complained of, and there have been many attempts to prolong it. Ought we to listen to the cry of humanity that life is too short and that it would be well to prolong it? Would it really be for the good of the human race to extend the duration of the life of man beyond its present limits? Already it is complained that the burden of supporting old people is too heavy, and statesmen are perturbed by the enormous expense which will be entailed by State support of the aged.
If the question were merely one of prolonging the life of old people without modifying old age itself, such considerations would be justified. It must be understood, however, that the prolongation of life would be associated with the preservation of intelligence and of the power to work. In the earlier parts of this book I have given many examples which show the possibility of useful work being done by persons of advanced years. When we have reduced or abolished such causes of precocious senility as intemperance and disease, it will no longer be necessary to give pensions at the age of sixty or seventy years. The cost of supporting the old, instead of increasing, will diminish progressively.
If attainment of the normal duration of life, which is much greater than the average life to-day, were to over-populate the earth, a very remote possibility, this could be remedied by lowering the birth-rate. Even at the present time, while the earth is far from being too quickly peopled, artificial limitation of the birth-rate takes place perhaps to an unnecessary extent.
Members of the energetic European grassroots community of longevity advocates propose to celebrate Metchnikoff's anniversary each year, and given his views and his work in medicine rightfully so, I say. That date is May 15th, and this year marks the 170th anniversary of Metchnikoff's birth. This initiative joins many others from past years, such as working to make celebrate the UN International Day of Older Persons as Longevity Day, all of which aim to raise awareness and build support for serious scientific efforts to treat and control degenerative aging.
Good advocacy is made up of many varied initiatives, year after year, for who knows which approach will go on to become a great success. Good advocacy is a matter of continually and inventively striving to deliver our message to ever more listeners, to persuade that next supporter, to raise that next dollar to fund the research that matters. The more that is done the easier it becomes: success attracts success, and every small gain matters.
There is a tradition to celebrate the anniversaries of great persons (scientists, artists, writers, politicians, generals) to promote the area of their activity and popularize their ideology. It may be hoped that, in this year, the anniversary of Metchnikoff will serve to promote and popularize the science and ideology of healthy life extension, including the state level. The "Metchnikoff Day" can provide an impulse for organizing topical meetings and conferences, a stimulus for research, and publications in the media, dedicated to Metchnikoff's legacy and continuation of his life work - the study of aging and longevity. This may play a positive role not only for the advancement and popularization of research of aging and healthy longevity, but also for the promotion of optimism, peace and cooperation.
In view of the immense significance of degenerative aging processes for the emergence of virtually all diseases, both communicable and non-communicable, and in view of the accelerating development of potential means to intervene into and ameliorate these processes for the sake of achieving healthy longevity, Metchnikoff's pioneering contribution to this field assumes an ever greater global significance. The world is rapidly aging, threatening grave consequences for the global society and economy, while the rapidly developing biomedical science and technology stand in the first line of defense against the potential threat. These two ever increasing forces bring gerontology, describing the challenges of aging while at the same time seeking means to address those challenges, to the central stage of the global scientific, technological and political discourse. At this time, it is necessary to honor Metchnikoff, who stood at the origin of gerontological discourse, not just as a scientific field, but as a social and intellectual movement.
Currently events in honor of the Metchnikoff Day are being planned in Kiev, Ukraine, on behalf of the Kiev Institute of Gerontology of the Ukrainian Academy of Medical Sciences; St. Petersburg, Russia, on behalf of the Gerontological Society of the Russian Academy of Sciences and I.I. Mechnikov North-Western State Medical University; in Moscow on behalf of the National Research Center for Preventive Medicine of the Ministry of Healthcare of the Russian Federation and the Russian Longevity Alliance; Larnaca, Cyprus, on behalf of the ELPIs Foundation and the Cyprus Neuroscience and Technology Institute; Oxford, UK, on behalf of the Oxford University Scientific Society and Biogerontology Research Foundation; in Ramat Gan, Israel, on behalf of the Israeli Longevity Alliance and the International Society on Aging and Disease (Israel). It may be hoped that, following these examples, more events and publications will be held around the world in honor of this day.