While journalistic treatment of serious rejuvenation research has improved greatly over the past decade, the mainstream media remains decidedly childish at times. Much of the profession of journalism works hard at producing the appearance of educated folk paid to play the fool, writing for an imagined audience of inattentive, ignorant peers, while ensuring that their education slips through the mask just enough to be seen. It degrades the author and insults the world at large. Everyone in this picture is better than they are portrayed, capable of introspection and self-determination. I noted the article here because it veers from the histrionic to the sensible, covering in one outing a fair portion of the existing journalistic spectrum of quality and common sense regarding aging and age-related disease. It predictably asks whether or not we should work to make progress in medical science, thereby producing far longer healthy life spans - the manticore of journalistic balance in place of actual thought on the matter.
Advances in anti-aging medicine suggest that even serious life extension may be within reach. Millions of dollars have poured into longevity research ranging from the radical (head transplants, cancer-killing nanobots) to the slightly more recognizable (repurposing diabetes medications to kill off senescent cells, drugs to mimic genes that have quadrupled the lives of worms). The hotly debated question among longevity experts, in fact, is not whether we'll celebrate significantly more birthdays but how many more.
Saving a life and extending a life are part of the same continuum. When we save a life, with defibrillators or bypass surgery or by pulling someone who's drowning out of a lake, we move the time of death. "We all believe in postponing deaths. We all want our own deaths postponed and we invest vast amounts as individuals and societies in methodologies for achieving that. To withdraw from that is to say that postponing death is not a good thing."
For all but our most recent history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. Life expectancy has increased in the West mainly because fewer children are dying before that fifth birthday, mostly thanks to improved nutrition, sanitation, and vaccines. But modern medicine has also helped the "bottom to drop out later and later" - past 50, past 80, past 100. In Canada, for the first time in history, there are now more over-65s than under 15s, and the biggest boom is in the centenarians, whose numbers grew by 41 per cent from 2011 to 2016.
Still, when we do die we tend to follow a predictable period of decline. By age 85, half of us will have three or more major chronic diseases. Our lungs start to give out, our reflexes slow, our vision dims. But Aubrey de Grey hopes to pull us out of that dive. Reach age 40, say, and then go in for a series of "rejuvenation" tune-ups that return us to the biological fitness (inside and out) of a a 20- or 30-year-old. Repeat a few decades later. And again, and again - until we achieve what de Grey calls "longevity escape velocity," renewal at a pace faster than aging. SENS-funded researchers, some of them leaders in their field, are working towards a panel of rejuvenation therapies to repair or eliminate seven different kinds of biological "junk" that accumulates as we age - cell loss, mutations in chromosomes, death-resistant cells, and so on - so that we are able to get seriously old without falling apart.