Thoughts on Medical Progress and Living Longer

This article expresses sentiments regarding medical technology and human longevity that we'd all like to see more of in the mainstream media. At some point, it will come to be seen by the average person as basically sensible to work towards minimizing the tide of suffering and death caused aging and age-related disease. It has been, in hindsight, a strange thing to live in a world in which most people were reflexively opposed to that goal.

Death and aging constitute a mystery. Some of us die more quickly. We often ask about it as children, deny it in youth, and reluctantly come to accept it as adults. Aging is universal across all species. In the bare-fact of our aging and dying, we resemble all other animals; in the details, however, we've improved considerably over the course of our history. At some point, our bodies decide to grow senescent and then to die. It's intrinsic, initiated from within the organism. The repeated shuffling of sirtuins and other epigenetic factors away from genes to sites of broken DNA, then back again (while helpful in the short term) is ultimately what causes us to age. Over time the wrong genes come on at the wrong time and in the wrong place. When you disrupt the epigenome by dealing with DNA breaks, it results in an erosion of the epigenetic landscape of misguided and malfunctioning cells.

A malady that impacts less than half the population is a 'disease'. Aging impacts everyone and therefore is an inevitable, irreversible decline in organ function that occurs over time even in the absence of injury, illness, environmental risks, or poor lifestyle choices. Aging limits the quality of life and has a specific pathology. It does all this and in doing so it fulfills every category of what we call a 'disease', except one; it impacts more than half of the population. It's the mother of all diseases, the one we all suffer from. Aging, by all means, is a disease though not yet considered so by any country. Insurance companies don't cover pharmaceuticals to treat cases that aren't recognized by government regulators even if it benefits humanity and the nation's bottom line. Without such a designation, unless you're suffering from a specific disease, longevity drugs will have to be paid for out of pockets, for they'll be elective luxuries.

As nobody has been working on any cure, because what's wrong with oldies isn't viewed as an illness. It's thought to be an inevitable part of life. Cancer, heart diseases, Alzheimer's, and other conditions we commonly associate with getting old aren't necessarily diseases themselves but symptoms of something greater. Efforts to define aging as a 'disease' both in custom and on paper will change the course of the future. Besides public funding to augment the cure doctors will feel comfortable prescribing medicines, such as Metformin, to their patients before they become irreversibly frail. Jobs will be created and scientists and drug makers will flock, industries will flourish.

There's a difference between extending life and prolonging vitality. We're capable of both but simply keeping people alive is no virtue. Life-extension means the recovery of the physical/intellectual capital that's tied up in hospitals and clinics, treating sick oldies. Add to this the billions of additional women, if provided, much longer windows of opportunity for pregnancy and parenting and extended female fertility by up to a decade or so. Imagine the combined intellectual power of the men and women who're currently sidelined due to age-discrimination, socially enforced ideas about the right time to retire, and diseases that rob them of the physical and intellectual capacity to engage, as they once did.



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