Bringing degenerative aging under medical control, ending the tens of millions of deaths each year, ending the suffering of hundreds of millions more. This is a plausible goal for our era of biotechnology. Yet even as the first rejuvenation therapies have become a reality, in the form of first generation senolytic drugs that clear a sizable fraction of senescent cells from the body, there is little public enthusiasm for - and understanding of - the path ahead to a better world. A world in which people have the choice not to decay in body and mind as they gather wisdom and experience in later life. Change is in the air, but it is far too slow, and every year of delay just adds to the toll of suffering and death that is the present human condition.
Today, some two thirds of all human funerals owe to the processes of aging. Only 3.7 per cent of cancer patients are under thirty-four, and if a cure for all types of cancers were miraculously found, it would add no more than two years to the average human lifespan, because other age-related diseases would still take their toll. But while the term "pandemic" - from the Greek pán ("all") and dēmos ("people") - does not imply infectious disease, our ethics prevent us from applying it to the nearly 100,000 daily deaths caused by aging.
Yet in 2021, we all agree that the effects of aging must be treated. The United States alone spends over $300 billion taxpayer dollars each year on the treatment of patients with Alzheimer's, and the trillions of dollars spent on the age-related mortality risk of COVID-19 by this single country, in this single year, make for a painful calculation. But to preventively fund aging research itself goes beyond the reactive purview of both politics and medical systems.
When asked in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 56 per cent of Americans replied they would not want to slow their aging and live up to 120. At first glance, their logic is sound: with an unaltered average health-span, to add another forty years to average human lifespan could be catastrophic, for both individuals and governments. By 2035, demographics in the United States will reach a turning point, with more people in the country aged 65 or older than 18 or younger.
At second glance, however, the Pew survey respondents are the same Americans who, if diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer's, would do all within reach to slow down its progression. In reality, one cannot successfully slow down the processes of aging without also increasing healthspan. And in techno-progressive societies, a larger number of healthy, long-lived individuals are more likely to mend financial structures than to burden them.
We think of aging as the product of this orphic thing called "time", ignoring that species far less resourceful than ours live on for centuries longer, and some (like the American lobster) do not decrease in strength, do not have their metabolism slowed down, and become more rather than less fertile, with the passage of time. Surely, we can do better than to draw a skewed, myopic ethics, which enshrines human life, even as we treat the biological processes of aging like a mystical, tabooed concept, from which life's meaning is to be derived. When some two thirds of human deaths owe to the effects of aging - a number rapidly increasing with advancements in robotics, vaccines, and self-driving cars - it becomes difficult to argue that death and aging must be recognised as divorced processes.