Time is inextricably linked with aging. We develop from children into teenagers, into parents, into grandparents–repeating the same cycle over and over again. Whether we like it or not, growing old is an irreversible life process that compels us to move forward. Or is it?
According to Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Research Foundation (SENS), “Ageing is, simply and clearly, the accumulation of damage in the body. That’s all that ageing is.” In other words, just like any other disease, it’s reversible with the right kind of treatment.
But over the last two decades, Dr. de Grey has been fighting an uphill battle to acquire funding from the general public. Pro-agers, in particular, consider his attempts at mitigating the aging process to be a pointless venture, insisting that death is an inevitability we must all accept.
However, when one steps back to analyze the rationale of pro-agers, he or she logically wonders, “Who, in their right mind, would choose death over life, especially when biomedical gerontologists like Dr. de Grey want to free mankind from the clutches of old age?”
A specific concern among pro-agers is population growth; that is, how will it negatively affect the environment? Well, as with any new technology, we will find ways to solve such problems. In today’s society, for example, we’re drawing on alternative sources of renewable energy to lighten the average person’s environmental footprint. These innovations so far have been successful in minimizing humanity’s overall carbon utilization and, in the same way, will do as much if we had more people.
Still, some argue, “We’re growing exponentially. For the world to survive, we NEED people to die.” On the contrary, if one were to perform a simple set of calculations, he or she would deduce that for every 150,000 individuals who die each day (of which two-thirds are caused by old age), 350,000 are born. Extrapolating the birthrate reveals a surprising counter-intuitive result: The human population is actually on a downward trend–so much so that the United Nations (UN) has predicted a global reduction in the world’s inhabitants by 2050. Thus, it would seem, there is no compelling reason for people to die.
Even extending the reproductive life of females wouldn’t adversely affect the human population. The elimination of aging, from an intuitive standpoint, would have the opposite effect: underpopulation. As recent history has shown, when societies reach a certain level of education, prosperity, and female emancipation, fertility rates naturally plummet. Women, if able, gravitate toward having kids later in life instead of early on, thereby ameliorating the demographic crisis of overpopulation.
Again, according to the UN,
Slower World Population Growth Due to Lower Fertility Rates
Future population growth is highly dependent on the path that future fertility will take, as relatively small changes in fertility behavior, when projected over decades, can generate large differences in total population. In recent years, fertility has declined in virtually all areas of the world, [especially] in Africa where fertility levels remain the highest of any major area.
Another common criticism of emerging anti-aging biotechnologies takes the form of an admonition that scientists should not “play God.” Well, what is playing God? What does that expression even mean? It’s just an undefined way of saying, “Don’t think about this anymore.”
Are we playing God when we cure something as natural as tuberculosis? In fact, there’s nothing in the holy scripture that says humans are not supposed to interfere with nature. Truth is, all of technology including medicine involves humans interfering with nature. It’s simply UNNATURAL for us not to.
And having an opinion about when you want to die, or when you think other people should die, is like having an opinion about what time you want to go to the bathroom ten days from now. You don’t have an opinion because you won’t know until then. Likewise, you’re fairly sure you’ll die someday, but as long as you’re healthy, there’s really no point in making that determination now.
The same goes for suicide: If people were to live forever, they wouldn’t actively kill themselves. Contemporary society ensures that when someone who is mentally and physically healthy wants to commit suicide, he or she will get the necessary help. Organizations such as Samaritans exist to provide 24-hour counseling.
Similarly, in the future, specialists won’t ask suicidal individuals, “How old are you?” only to hang up because the caller is a 10,000-year-old man. The bottom line is nobody should want to die, and society is unlikely to let that happen.
It’s also doubtful that anti-aging medicine and/or treatments will merely be another form of global inequality which caters to the rich. Contrary to what we have today, the elderly will be able to function sufficiently enough to contribute wealth to society rather than consume it. To an even larger extent, it will be economically suicidal for countries not to front-load the investment. Imagine competing against a workforce of 800-year-olds who look and feel like 25-year-olds.
Indeed, we must take Dr. de Grey’s work seriously. He shows us that extending life is not only possible but necessary; in fact, with adequate funding, SENS could quickly develop anti-aging medicines and/or treatments which would eradicate devastating illnesses, not just aging.
Yes! People have the misconception that “old age” is separate from disease; when, in reality, they’re the same. Over time, as the body inflicts various types of molecular and cellular damage to itself, it eventually manifests “side effects” outside of its normal operation–usually in the form of heart disease, invasive cancer, or cognitive impairment.
However, in the same way that we fix rust on our cars, we’ll be able to repair both molecular and cellular damage through comprehensive treatments. In time, the negative effects of aging will be nothing more than a quaint vestige of the past.
Interestingly, experts are already implementing one type of treatment: macro replacement therapy. It’s purely another way of doing preventive maintenance on organs such as the liver. If required, trained professionals enter the body and replace the whole cell. Of course, the brain can’t be swapped, but we could gradually exchange individual brain cells, allowing enough time for them to integrate properly into the cognitive network.
But what Dr. de Grey is striving for transcends conventional replacement therapy. If we could replace defects at the molecular and sub-molecular level, we would have the ability to repair and remove garbage (i.e., waste products that the body can’t eliminate on its own).
It’s important to understand that the only reason our risk of death increases with age is due to accumulated damage, which eventually causes our bodies to stop functioning. If we could prevent that damage from accumulating, there’s absolutely no reason why our lifespans should ever go down.
Ask yourself this: Why should everything you do be predicated on your demise?
As a society, we should be horrified by the fact that most of us don’t view aging as a problem. Rather than submit ourselves to an eternity of meaningless non-existence, we must endeavor to stop aging. Not out of a profound fear of dying, but out of an altruistic desire to improve the quality of life for all humans.
Visionaries like Dr. de Grey are the reason why mankind is able to make progress. They aim high and refuse to accept what is as what should be. Unfortunately, they can’t succeed without our help. So, beginning today, let’s support them however we can.