This past week there was an intriguing opinion piece in Toronto’s Globe and Mail entitled “It’s only natural to rage against aging”. Written by David Sinclair and Matthew LaPlante, their overriding point is that there is no reason why we can’t all live to be far older than the current expectation. Although at the moment we believe that the body has a finite life in the neighbourhood of 100 years, with a record outlier of 122 years (and as far as I’m concerned, God forbid), David Sinclair’s genetics research at Harvard and Matthew LaPlante’s journalistic forays into this area suggest that breakthroughs in overcoming age limits dictated by our cells will allow us to break that barrier in spades. They are so convinced that they have written a book on the subject: Lifespan: Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To.
I will admit that I haven’t read the book, just the article. Their book may well answers to some of the many questions I have. However, regardless of their answers I don’t think they can convince me that this is good news. The idea seems to be that you may be able to take a little pill to override our current “destiny” of aging cells. For me, taking pills to live forever is one scary thought, for the greater society as well as for the poor, worn-out 150-year old (or 164-year old) senior citizen.
Let’s see what the options might look like.
You start taking the little pill when you’re young.
Perhaps this means that everyone will have the overall health and energy levels of 30-50 year olds for several additional decades. Hmm. What would that be like?
- Would everyone keep working for that much longer?
- Would we be able to generate jobs for everyone?
- Wouldn’t all these additional people consume even more resources and energy sources than we do now, the source of which is causing such stress on our planet with the population we currently have?
- If people stayed in the prime of their lives for many, many decades, then would they continue to be able to procreate for all these years? Would they start having second and third clusters of kids?
- If not, will the kids – who will be vastly outnumbered – become spoiled by multiple generations of grandparents, kind of a greatly expanded version of China’s now-relaxed 1-child policy?
- What impact would such a shift in age within our populations have on voting and public policy?
Oh, my gosh, if it meant we stayed as children or – think about it – teenagers longer, just how would that work??! More stress leaves for the parents? Mind you, there’d be all those grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents to help out. Just think about having kids and teenagers for twice as long as you do now, and then go pour yourself a drink.
You start taking the little pill when you start to feel or see signs of aging.
This scenario would see people starting to overcome the aging process when they were in their 60s or early 70s. After all – and I speak from experience here – until you start to see real signs of aging in yourself, you think you will always be able to do the same things you can do today. But once you start to struggle with remembering someone’s name more often than you used to, or you continually come into a room and can’t remember what you came in for, or you start noticing that you don’t recover from exercise as fast as you used to, or your knee hurts –or your back or your neck, or your other favourite first wake-up call … maybe then you’d think about starting to take the little pill. What would that be like?
- Many of these people are already retired. Will they now live for an additional 50-100 years with the body of a 65-75 year old?
- We are already facing a health crisis in the industrialized world because of the increasing numbers of people who are living in their 80s and 90s, with many health needs and long-term care needs. How would society manage the health and care needs of senior citizens if 40-50% of the population were 65 or older, as opposed to 15+% today?
- I guess we could volunteer to take care of each other!
The little pill actually reverses the aging process.
You don’t think you’ll need to take the little pill, and then one day you realize – maybe when you’re 73 and just don’t have the energy to do what you used to be able to do – that maybe you’ll take it after all. What the heck. So, if the little pill can reverse the aging process, which the authors suggest:
- Will it put the pigment back into your white hair?
- Will it remove the age spots from all over your body?
- Will it rejuvenate your dry, wrinkled skin?
- Will it eliminate your arthritis?
- Will you have to go back to work? Get up early in the morning every weekday?!
- And … will you have to do this forever?!!
Thanks but no thanks.
As you may be able to tell from the questions I posed above, the notion of living forever doesn’t have a lot of appeal for me. At 73, I’m very accepting of a finite life. Surely our goal should be to live a good life, a life with purpose, hopefully occasionally sharing happiness with others … while we have it to live. If someone suddenly told me that I was going to live for another 50 years or more, I would be horrified! 😉
According to the authors of this article, aging is not inevitable. Happily, I don’t expect to be around should living forever come to realization, but if it does, look out world. The implications for public policy will be something else!