Is the Present Human Life Span Enough?

Is the present human life span enough? This was the topic for a recent debate, wherein Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation and Brian Kennedy of the Buck Institute were matched against Ian Ground of Newcastle University and Paul Root Wolpe of the Emory Center for Ethics. Obviously my answer to the question is a resounding no; we should absolutely be doing far more than we are to eliminate aging and extend healthy life spans to the greatest degree possible. I am in a minority for holding that view, however. A growing minority, but a minority nonetheless. Two thirds of the population, when asked, say that yes, the present length of life is just fine. For my money, I think this is simply that most people live in the moment, within the bounds of what is, and give little thought to what might be different. If the wall is white and has always been white, you'll only get blank stares if you ask people what color it should be. What is familiar is equated with what is best, or sufficient, or good. Most people see the future as more of the present, just a different day with different fashions. Managing to hold this state of mind whilst standing amidst the fastest pace of progress in history is a feat, but clearly we humans are up to it.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the position that present length of life is sufficient is that near all of the people who think this way, will if asked, also say that cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and other well-known age-related conditions should be cured. This is inconsistent, to say the least, as these conditions are caused by aging. They, and the other failure modes of organs and tissues that have been given formal names, are what kill people. Aging is the wear and tear that gives rise to these conditions, but these are not separate things. The only way to prevent age-related disease is to control the processes of aging - such as through periodic repair of damage after the SENS model - so as to indefinitely sustain function and health. If function and health are sustained, then life is lengthened. It is impossible to decouple aging from health.

The next time you find someone who thinks that the present length of life is fine, ask them what disease they want to suffer and die from. What is an acceptable way to decay into death? Heart disease? Kidney failure? How about neurodegeneration, the loss of the mind? My guess is that they don't want to suffer any of the above, and have hazy notions of an easy death at the end of life. Modern societies have pushed the ugly realities of what it means to age to death out of mind, behind curtains and into nursing homes and hospitals. That ugly reality for near everyone is pain and degeneration, the loss of function over time, and a very unpleasant end. Again, the only way to prevent that is to control the underlying processes of damage that cause aging and disease, and by doing so extend health and life. There is no picking that apart. It is only through ignorance of how things actually work in our biology that people can hold the strange and inconsistent positions that they do on aging, medicine, and longevity.

Lifespans are Long Enough

What if we didn't have to grow old and die? The average American can expect to live for 78.8 years, an improvement over the days before clean water and vaccines, when life expectancy was closer to 50, but still not long enough for most of us. So researchers around the world have been working on arresting the process of aging through biotechnology and finding cures to diseases like Alzheimer's and cancer. What are the ethical and social consequences of radically increasing lifespans? Should we accept a "natural" end, or should we find a cure to aging?

Is 78.8 Years Long Enough to Live?

First to argue in favor of the motion that "Lifespans are long enough" was professor of bioethics and director of the Emory Center for Ethics, Paul Root Wolpe. He said: "We all want to live longer. Maybe even forever. But I think the quest for immortality is a narcissistic fantasy. It's about us. It's about me. It's not about what's good for society." As Wolpe saw it, the question is not about whether it's possible to extend life but whether it's desirable. He viewed making the pursuit of indefinitely long life a goal in and of itself as wrong-headed. "Will life extension make the world a better place, a kinder place? Has extended life expectancy made it better? I don't think so," Wolpe said.

First to debate against the motion that lifespans are long enough was Aubrey de Grey, chief science officer of SENS Research Foundation. "I believe that the defeat of aging is the most important challenge facing humanity," he declared. "I'm going to start with this question about the alleged conflict between individual desire and societal good." De Grey compared the issue to people not wanting themselves or anyone else to get Alzheimer's disease. "It's a societal good because we don't like each other to get sick any more than we want to get sick," he said. De Grey doesn't believe that future problems are anywhere near as horrifying as the problem we have today. He said: "Let me tell you exactly how bad the problem that we have today actually is. Worldwide roughly 150- to 160,000 people die each day. And more than two-thirds of those people die of aging. It's crazy. In the industrialized world, we're talking more like 90 percent of all deaths. Let's actually do something about it."

Philosopher Ian Ground of Newcastle University and Secretary of the British Wittgenstein Society supported the motion that lifespans are long enough. Ground questioned the wisdom of having an indefinitely long life that could be led with no thought about its ending or decline. He urged us to consider a decision like committing to a certain career, person or place. People can't do everything, marry everybody or live everywhere, Ground said. We become particular people by making those choices, and must recognize that with natural capacities come natural limitations, he added.

The final panelist, who argued against the motion "Lifespans Are Long Enough," was Brian Kennedy, CEO and president of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Kennedy addressed speculation from the previous three speakers about what life might be like if we lived to 150, from how society would change to the prospect of boredom. "Maybe we're going to be bored. Well, you know, if you ask me: 'Do I want to have cancer at 75? Do I want to have Alzheimer's disease at 85? Or do I want to be bored at 110?' I know which one I'm going to take," said Kennedy.

In the end, the team arguing against the motion "Lifespans Are Long Enough" won, according to the audience. The post-debate score results were 40 percent for the proposition, 49 percent against and 11 percent undecided.


«The next time you find someone who thinks that the present length of life is fine, ask them what disease they want to suffer and die from. »

But here you're equating lifespan with healthspan, Reason. Although they're strongly correlated as we all know, technically it could be that people would be fine with living healthily up to, say, 82 years old; and then abruptly end their lives one way or the other.

It's still comforting to read (in the 2nd article) that a slight majority of the public preferred to live indefinitely - or at least more than the current lifespan.
And that there were more than 10% of people who were undecided; meaning our cause is sensible and cannot be rejected right away, and meaning we can still sway the opinion of these people.

I'll also note that many arguments of « pro-agers » sound very feeble to me.
Besides the usual, there's this one for example: « adding that if the World War I, World War II, and Civil War generations were still alive, “do you really think that we would have civil rights and [homosexual] marriage in this country?” ». Well, people are able to change their minds even at an advanced age, so why not? Especially if a much longer lifespan would have had exposed them to many more life experiences, and anyway would have had let proponents of a minority opinion the time to ramp up their advocacy.

Posted by: Nico at February 9th, 2016 9:59 AM

"In the end, the team arguing against the motion "Lifespans Are Long Enough" won, according to the audience. The post-debate score results were 40 percent for the proposition, 49 percent against and 11 percent undecided."

This is a turning point, the first time I see a majority on our side in a mixed audience!

Posted by: Nicolai at February 9th, 2016 10:08 AM


Hi Reason !

''It is impossible to decouple aging from health.''

That has always been a very blurred and fine line, in order to live
a longer lifespan, you obviously Need health quality to be maintained.
But there is a gray tonal distinction in this black and white (dead or alive).

For example, two papers showed, respectively, the first one showed that (some)
mitochondrial mutations in yeast do not accelerate aging or have any 'real' weight on
intrinsic aging process. Although, that is in yeast, in humans it's not exactly the same.
And the second one, is a C.elegans worm that had a dramatic lifespan 10-fold * extension (something unheard of)
by modulating mitochondrial membrane lipid PI (peroxidizability index) through insulin signaling abrogation
altering desaturase/elongases responsible for lipid unsaturation creation, making the worm live originally
from not even 15 or 20 days...and with the insulin/lipidomic therapy, the worm lived 180 to nearly 250 days.
That was very spectacular and proved that the PI/DBI, altering mitochondrial membrane lipid peroxidation/mtDNA degradation, is causal to MLSP.
But what was most important, is the effect it had on the mutant long-lived worms...those worm who reached 200+ days, were infertile, had dramatic
development deficiency (they stayed 'children/adolescents'), the 'adult' 'puberty' phase was much much later (this is in direct relation to Neoteny/Juvenilization/late puberty).
But, especially, they were 'nearly' half-dead because their metabolism was so slow and reduced; their breathing/pumping/moving rate was very low; they were amorph and basically their quality of life was awful.

So this demonstrated that healthspan can be decoupled from average longevity/Average or Median lifespan, and especially, Maximum lifespan.
The kind of dramatic reduction of lipid fluidity they had, reduced the peroxidation, but at a developmental cost. It's why humans have a low PI and
longevous animals have a lower PI; but they bodies and membranes were capable of working a 'minimum' level of fluidity and allowing a long life - in quality.

The effect that happened in those worms, is akin to the Marfan syndrome. These people who have this disease show dramatic reduction in membrane fluidity and PI (they have reduced levels of polyunsaturates in their membranes).
Although, it doesn't work, they don't live any longer. Demonstrating, that aging and health quality - can be decoupled.

Replicative Senescence which is different (by 'ongoing' low-levels of 'normal' oxidative stress) than Pathological Inducible Senescence (by acceleration of senescent cell formation in diseased state with 'unnormal' extreme oxidative stress),
demonstrates that they are Inter-Linked but they can be Un-linked in certain states.

That is why if you cure Alzheimer's or atherosclerosis, you - do not - stop aging. You cure some diseases that's it. Maximum Lifespan - still stands - even if Alzheimer's or other disease is cured.
And that is because ongoing 'intrinsic aging' process (mitochondria producing ROS and mtDNA degradation, accelerating telomere loss) continue its course - diseased or not.
When you have diseases, it's just quicker (hence die before their MLSP when diseased).
When people have no doesn't leave much to 'die' of...but 'regular' 'intrinsic aging'...
supercentenarians die of brain involution and transthyretin deposition.
If we remove transtheyretin...there is still brain involution (oxidative stress over a 100 years making grey/white mass shrinking...thanks to the brain's high PI (brain has high phosphatidylethanolamine DHA and EPA, which are major
contributors to mitochondrial membrane destruction and mtDNA fragmentation/lesion/deletions).

I watched the debate show in entirety...
It's the first time I hear Aubrey talk live...
All along I was rooting for the 'against-side' (against the debate's 'Lifespans are long enough')
D*mn, I was swearing and cussing (in my head) at the d*mn video all along; Those 'pro-death' dudes, they want to die so bad for the greater good, they value their life like very little...
It was all high moral with the 'just give in, be a human, and die like everyone; don't be greedy narcist who thinks only of himself''

Poor Aubrey, I felt for him, he was being attacked by rabids 'profatalists' who think we are in Adolescent/childish Utopia of 'immortality'.
I sweared so bad when the results came in, 49% voted that yes, life is too long, whereas 40% voted no. 11% were undecided; those undecided people hurt the score.
But it gives me hope, we were only 9.1% away from beating them. The views will change and people, in 30 years, will finally give in and say yes, for lifespan extension - whether 30 years, 100 or 1000 - yes to it all.

Posted by: CANanonymity at February 9th, 2016 1:41 PM


49% voted lifespans aren't long enough, and 40 voted they are. So Aubrey's side won the debate. How it would look if there weren't the 11% undecided is anyones guess though.

Posted by: Ham at February 9th, 2016 1:59 PM

ps: I apologize! That was real dumb of me, :D sorry. I glossed the final results too quick (was rather sad/angry/out of it after debate) and interpreted that they were 49% against lifespan extension; but it really is 49% against the Motion vs 40% for it : 'Lifespan is long enough'
So yay!!! We are 9% above, meaning there are more of us who want lifespan extension and that lifespan is too short as it is. Thank goodness! Aubrey should be very proud and his speeches, with his colleagues, are starting to change people's minds at large (this debate is a proof).

Posted by: CANanonymity at February 9th, 2016 2:06 PM


Thank Ham...sorry I was emotional after watching it and literally in suspense for the results...that I read wrong... :D Too much emotions. ;)

Posted by: CANanonymity at February 9th, 2016 2:08 PM

As always, the antiLE arguments are very weak, ranging from pseudo ad hominen (life extensionists are narcisists) to hair splitting (even if defeating aging, that is good, and life extension, that is bad, have the same end result, what is important aren't results, but intentions) and outright wrong statements (there is a natural human lifespan, and it's the lifespan we live today).

Posted by: Antonio at February 10th, 2016 4:19 AM

It surprises me that men of science argue with "natural limitations", since if we would live by those, we would still be sitting in caves, freezing our *sses off, because we weren't "supposed" to discover fire.

I see 'Pro Agers' using the 'natural' argument all the time: "It's natural to age! It's natural to die!" Even though "natural" is just another man made concept, which is holding humanity back.

And about the "narcissistic" part: Saying "Hey I want to live forever!" is narcissistic, but saying "Nah f*ck that, I want to die, so everyone else should too!" isn't? As Aubrey himself already said, who are we to make this decision for others, for our descendants? It's not like we are forcing anyone to stay alive. Once we'd have developed an anti aging treatment, they could still opt into not using it.

Posted by: Kevin at February 15th, 2016 4:38 PM

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