I don’t know about you, but it only seems feasible to me that, if I am going to live to an older age, I would like to do so in good enough health to enjoy it. I just can’t see living to be 150 years old while being confined to a bed, in pain, or unaware of what is going on around me as anything to look forward to. On the reverse, since medical achievements, improved hygiene, and nutrition have increased our life expectancy to about 80 years old, can we look forward to aging without its devastating effects?
To me it is amazing that, just 100 years ago, the average life expectancy was only 47 years old, while today some are predicting that humans in the future could live for 120 years or more. These same predictors seem to indicate that, with the use of “high-tech” solutions, the average life expectancy could soon reach 90 years old. Which brings me to the question: old age or good health — which would you prefer?
In the science community, the intricacies of DNA and stem cell research along with other studies involving biodynamics may be poised to boost longevity. However, this longevity may not be the direct result of scientists directly working on extending life, but rather on their efforts to treat and cure such maladies as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, all of which claim a huge number of lives very year. This means that the direct result of their work is added life expectancy.
Unfortunately for those living today, this research may not find the answers needed in time, but the United Nations estimates that, within the next century, life for women in developed countries could actually hit 100 years old, with women in undeveloped countries making it to 90 years old. It must be noted, however, that this life extension is dependent on anticipated improvements in medical treatment and procedures as well as high-tech fixes.
Some of these long anticipated improvements are expected to come about as the result of stem cell research. This research, while a hotly contested political issue, has for the last decade or so been at the forefront of scientific study. In these studies, scientists have been experimenting with using stem cells to either repair or replace damaged cells in animal test subjects. The results have been amazing with researchers claiming to have successfully used stem cell replacements and variants to repair tissues in the heart, liver, and organs of animals. It has even been suggested that some scientists have progressed to using human test subjects. In these cases, they have claimed that they were successfully able to grow human bladders and urethras from stem cells and implant them into their human guinea pigs.
If these scientists are allowed to continue their research, it could mean cures for such dreaded maladies as Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease. If such cures are possible, then we humans may be faced with the question: How long do we want to live?
This question was posed in a non-scientific survey to some 30,000 respondents, resulting in the following conclusions:
- 80 years old — 58.76%
- 120 years old — 29.42%
- 150 years old — 9.69%
- Forever — 2.13%
These results are interesting, but are based solely on how long one would like to live, not on what type of health one would have at that older age. In other words, would the person answering the survey provide the same answer if they knew what their physical condition would be at that age? Would a long life be worth it if one were in bad health or if the person were in constant pain? Should we assume that science will come up with dramatic new anti-aging technologies or a medical fountain of youth? Should we assume that old age will also mean good health?
What are the social impacts of increasing life expectancy to 100 years or longer? Could it be the burden that will break the camel’s back? Can we, as a country that is already struggling with the costs of providing medical coverage for our seniors, continue to provide it as our baby boomer generation turns 65, then 85, then 100 years old? With birth rates declining, what happens if the next generation lives even longer? Who is going to pay for their medical care, nursing home needs, and medications?
I believe that this is really something that should be well planned and, while some believe that living longer may have its benefits, I personally challenge these assumptions for several reasons. First, if one has seen older people who are suffering from serious illnesses, these folks seem to want to die. It is not because they have given up on life, but it is because they have accepted death. They have made peace with themselves and have hope of a better life beyond the grave. Though this concept may seem odd to some who may be reading this article, others will understand completely.
What do you think? How long do you wish to live?
Share your thoughts with us.
Comments, as always, are welcome.
Source: NY Times
Source: When I’m 164
CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by wallyg