Thinking Out Loud: Shifting Perspectives Toward the End of Life
INTERESTING STUFF – 14 December 2019

The Limits of Longevity

”An American biotech company has launched clinical trials in Colombia to test a new therapy designed to reverse the aging process, and in turn, treat age-related diseases...” reports Live Science.

Here's the catch: it will cost you US$1 million to participate and you will need to travel to Cartagena, Colombia, where the trial is being conducted.

According to reports, the new treatment focuses on lengthening telomeres, structures found at the tips of chromosomes that become shorter after each cell division until they either stop dividing or perish.

The theory is that if telomeres are repaired, ageing will reverse. I can't prove this but I'm pretty sure the pertinent literature is littered with failed experiments based on that telomere theory – I certainly have read of several such studies over the years.

Announcements of new longevity treatments have been dropping into my inbox a couple of times a month for as long as I've been writing this blog (15 years), never to be heard from again. But this is the first time I know of that researchers are charging people money to participate in the clinical trial.

What intrigues me with every announcement of a possible longevity treatment is the unspoken assumption that lengthening human life beyond the ancient four-score-and-seven is always a good thing.

But is it really?

Let's play with that idea today. Something like how would life change without death looming or, at least, if an average life span extended to – oh, let's say 200 or 250 years.

My practical side always kicks in first: if people lived that long, where would we put everyone? We have already overpopulated our planet, perhaps beyond our ability to save ourselves. There are people in Hong Kong right now who make their homes in cubicles not much larger than a coffin.

Would ageing continue as it is now with our bodies slowly losing vitality as now or would good health necessarily need to be built in to treatment for increased longevity? (And does that put a monkey wrench in even the idea of life extension?)

If the trial mentioned above were successful, what would reversing the ageing process look like? Would a person treated for extended longevity look younger and younger by the day? How far back would people's ages reverse?

No one yet has come up with any way to extend human life. In fact, in the United States, life expectancy has been dropping in the past three years. So since this is fantasy today so go as wild as you like with predictions.

And let's not forget the cultural questions.

If life stretched out in front of us for two, three or more times the current life expectancy, would we still fall in love, have children, form families? Or would that become less important? Or...

How would work and its meaning change?

If you were the age you are now and knew that barring accident, you would have another 150 or more years, how would that affect your daily life? Your goals?

Does death give life meaning that it would not have if we could double or triple humans' current life span? How so?

Don't take this too seriously – have some fun with it today. Or, if you've got an extra million dollars lying around and you're thinking you might spend it in that clinical trial, let us know and be sure to send us updates from Cartagena.


Comments

Ronni, Isn't four score and seven from the Gettysburg Address? The biblical suggestion of a full life was three score and ten--Psalm 90: 10.

Pilgrim...

You're undoubtedly right but I'm pretty sure readers, like you, get the idea I was going for. I haven't had enough coffee yet to think that hard.

I'm thinking that suddenly finding out you'll live for another hundred years would be like winning the lottery. They say that most lottery winners squander their winnings and end up no happier than they were before. Still and all ... I'd like to win the lottery!

We'd end up, I think, with enormous segregation by age. The events that shape us occur when we're young--Beatles, the JFK assassination, school experiences (atomic war drills, school shootings). We can connect despite this, of course, but in a 200-year lifespan, the new things that are developed are owned most solidly by the people who are "native" to them. There would be so many cultural changes over two centuries!
Yet, if you could promise me another 130 years feeling like I do today--no decline--I'd have a very hard time turning it down!
Then again, the cataclysm I see coming--climate change, the global rise of terrible leaders and their deeply passionate followers, the disintegration of Western civilization--would affect my decision. Maybe. You could eliminate disease easier, I think, than the human desire to kill each other; you can't protect me, even now, from being shot at Target.

I've had my coffee, and walked the dog, and thinking about all the politics going on, and not so sure another hundred years would be great, anyway, if you haven't seen the info from this past weeks 60 Minutes, it was interesting and a few years off, but not a Million Dollars in Colombia...Could genetic engineering stop aging process in humans ...

What blows my mind is that smart, (I didn't say intelligent) goal oriented scientific types are wasting their time on this fol-de-rol while climate change, and a whole bunch of other serious issues loom. I used to be amazed and confounded by the "fiddling while Rome burns," but now I get it, sort of. Because it looks like most of us are doing just that. Certainly these genetic engineers in Columbia are!

If one becomes "immortal" (or close to) and the body stayed, say, at about 65-70 years old--- what would be the point? If, in fact, one's body became younger; where does it stop? For women, a whole new set of problems/choices. Perhaps, too, for men. As for now, I would be happy with a few health problems corrected and the usual "dead end". B

1. Reversing the aging process would be disastrous for the planet and human kind
2. See the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and decide if this is something you would really like to do.
3. What else are they smoking in Columbia?

Excellent essay! My response? There’s a sucker born every minute. And humans are too stupid to be allowed to live that long... as proven over the last 20 years.

My hope is that the planet does a big Self Correct via human caused climate disaster, takes a break from humanity, possibly regenerates, and sees what happens...

My rage over politics in the US and UK needed to vent 🤦🏻‍♀️

I have a feeling that if such a thing ever became possible in the next 75 years, it would be an insanely expensive procedure & something only billionaires like Beyonce, Mark Zuckerberg & Jeff Bezos could pursue. Would I like my body to be half my age, be 30 again? In a heartbeat! I just don’t know if I’d want to keep doing it more than once or twice…

On my grandmother’s 84th birthday, we had a big celebration for her (and I’m thankful we did, she didn’t live to see 85). When she blew out the candles on her cake, we asked what she wished for and she said to be 65 again. I said “Grandma, 65? That’s the best you can wish for?” She said “Yes McDougall, any earlier than that & I might have to go back to work again!”

If income inequality is a major issue , lifespan inequality will blow that out of the water. Of course any treatment will be over the top expensive to obtain.
The rich will have to live their elongated 200 year lives removed and guarded from the riffraff of the ordinary agers. Greedy people who hoard their money would live to see their children and grandchildren age and die.

How would the brain adapt to 200 years of technological and cultural changes?

Wonder if it will end up like the rich who have had their bodies frozen at death and are waiting to be reanimated.

Of course if it became accessible for everyone then in a few hundred years everyone would be bitching about why can’t anti aging medicine extend the lifespan for 500 years. Human nature is rarely satisfied with what is.

Love Doug M's story! My question is who would support me financially during all those additional years? I like being retired and have no desire to go back to work.

Count me out, I'm sorry but I don't think this planet needs more us living to 200 or 300, just the opposite. I think it's a pile of toot. People will still die and I for one would not look forward to centuries of losing friends and family. And Doug M's Grandma was right, what if I had to go back to work...

You know some people still hold that birth control is playing god. One wonders how they feel about this. Pretty good, I suspect.

I was talking with a cousin earlier this week as she tried to figure out how to dispose of her "recyclables" which no one in her area will accept for recycling as there's no market for them. I told her that I believed if there was half as much investment in recycling as there is in exhausting the last of Earth's consumable resources we'd be a lot further down the road to ecological balance. Maybe a quarter as much. Now I'm curious how much is being sunk into this foolish scheme.

Just consider... collecting Social Security for 150 years! If you think we're bankrupt now, just wait.

Another 15-25 years IF I were in good health--maybe. 150+? Nope! I already feel that today's world is no longer a familiar place in some respects. Imagine all the changes humans would need to absorb over a 150+-year lifespan, and we're not all that great at dealing with rapid change.

From what I see now--hate, vitriol, resistance to "the other", the repudiation by some of science/denial of climate change, the re-emergence of the Far Right and autocratic governments, the prevalence of Vulture Capitalism--I'm quite confident that we would find new and unique ways to destroy "the unwanted" among our species. History indicates that we never stop trying.

Note to those who could afford to participate in this experiment: Why not use those spare millions to help preserve the planet we inhabit and will leave (sooner or later) to YOUR kids as well as ours? Personally, I would have no desire to be 130 years old and fighting for drinking water or a spot of dry ground in a world where 100 degrees is considered a cool down!

Here we are at the end of normal and the wealthy class, the Kings of infinite consumerism on a finite planet who got us into this mess want to live on the remains of it forever?

The irony does not escape me.

XO
WWW

Several years back I read an article in The Atlantic. Written by Dr Ezekiel Emanuel, the title is Why I Hope To Die At 75. It can still be found online and I'm sure many here would find it an interesting read, despite the fact that many are well past that age.

The comments are just as interesting to read.

This has never been appealing to my mind. AT ALL.
And with the way the world is going the future looks terribly bleak.

1 million dollars to live longer or reverse old age sounds like a vanity project.

If you have 1 million dollars to go to Columbia, travel around the country and see what needs could be met by the money. It would fill your heart, teach you a whole lot of stuff about how 99% of the rest of the world lives any maybe you'd feel like you could die happy. What more does anyone want?

I can't imagine what a burden living that long would put on resources, Medicare, Social Security, our children, our grand-children.......

What a great discussion!! All over the place. Just like I like it.

Bigger issue here is the database at ClinicalTrials.gov.
Anyone can put anything up on that site, legit or not, rendering it a marketing platform for bad players. All the bogus stem cell therapies are a prime example of this ongoing fraudulent activity.
A million bucks to shoot stuff into my spinal fluid? No thanks, I'll pass.
And what if the therapy only lengthened the telomeres in my arms and legs, say, but not in my face or boobs? Now that's an image I can do without ;-/

That's a long time for monogamy. But on the bright side - one might be considered the "Younger woman" even at the age of 90.

Cartagena and $1 million? Wait -- I've seen that movie. Remember what happened to Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone? No thank you.
And even if I trusted the process, it's a terrible idea, unless something miraculous were to happen to change human nature. A good friend of mine believes that homo sapiens is proving to be a failed species, and I'm beginning to agree.

Well, OK....what IS the best time to go.? Seems to me beyond 95 is kind of pointless.
Oh-oh, my next birthday is number 96.

Loved this piece, Ronni. For me, today, it evoked one of G. B. Shaw's later plays, "Back to Methuselah." It is a long, long rambling collection of five plays that follow the evolution of humans. The last, "As Far As Thought Can Reach,"is the one that most interested me. Set in the year 31,920, several basic things have changed, including:

- Humans have become oviparous
- They are young and "beautiful" for only 4-5 years, also the length of their interest in sex, considered a trivial diversion of extreme youth
- They live many hundreds of yeaers, becoming profoundly wise
- Almost always silent, the ancients can also change their shape if they want to

We're not about to experience this, but it would be nice to think humans can survive for another 29,000 years, which seems currently so unlikely . . .

Another 150 years? No thanks! The idea of another 150 years of our beloved political leaders driving our countries to divisiveness and hatreds of all kinds? As another person commented, count me out.

Selfishness and narcissism to the extreme

Live 200 years? No way! All your friends and family would be gone, and I'd imagine you would not enjoy the health, energy and flexibility necessary to truly enjoy those extra (and lonely) years. However, living for 100 years in the body of a fit 35 year old might be another story altogether... ;)

At present we live much longer than, say, a thousand or two years ago. And we find it normal, acceptable and desirable. We use the lifespan we have gained to do enjoyable things that we could not do when we where still in the work force. We can go back to school, read more, travel, help other people, or plain do nothing. We have adapted ourselves to this longer life, why couldn't we adapt to an even longer life? The structure of societies would be different, like it is different today from just 200 years ago. Humans adapt, that is why they survive
Longer life is not the problem: people are! Greed, evil, cruelty, poverty, the lack of human rights are the problem. As humans are now, we don't deserve to take more space in this dying planet

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