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Aubrey de Grey thinks the first humans who will live to 1,000 already walk among us. But is postponing death a good thing? – reported National Post (US).
Aubrey de Grey clearly enjoys the role of prophet.
The 54-year-old wears his beard down to his chest and his hair long. He compares his struggle for mainstream recognition to Gandhi’s. He’s given talks on how to be a successful heretic (“be right”). And in an interview last year, he described himself as “spiritual leader” of “the world’s most important mission.”
It’s certainly ambitious. De Grey is the co-founder and chief science officer of SENS, a Silicon Valley startup aimed at eradicating age-related diseases — and perhaps the endgame of aging, death itself —through “mass rejuvenation” therapy.
Turn the diseases and disabilities of aging on their side, SENS gospel says, and you’ll see the same types of damage connecting the stiff arteries, crumbling bones and failing kidneys — intracellular rubble that accumulates over time as byproducts of the metabolic processes that keep us alive in the first place.
Remove or repair that cellular and molecular damage with periodic tune-ups, however, by taking new drugs, perhaps, or through infusions of stem cells, and you can stop senescence, the inevitable slide into sickness and frailty that comes with age.
Possibly indefinitely. Barring a global catastrophe, de Grey likes to say, the first humans who will live to 1,000 already walk among us.
Paul Root Wolpe, chief bioethicist for NASA and director of the centre for ethics at Emory University, has derided this assertion as a male adolescent power fantasy, the scientifically unsupported assumptions of “an evangelist for a religious vision of Utopian health.”
However advances in anti-aging medicine suggest that even serious life extension may be within reach. Millions of dollars have poured into longevity research ranging from the radical (head transplants, cancer-killing nanobots) to the slightly more recognizable (repurposing diabetes medications to kill off senescent cells, drugs to mimic genes that have quadrupled the lives of worms).
The hotly debated question among longevity experts, in fact, is not whether we’ll celebrate significantly more birthdays but how many more: After Nature published a paper in 2016 arguing that the human lifespan maxes out at 115, McGill University biologists published a rebuttal insisting a lifespan of 150 or beyond isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
What none of these predictions address, however, is the impact those extra years, decades or centuries may have on our wellbeing — and on what it means to be human.
The oldest person on record is Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122 in 1977. She married well and never had to work. She was still riding a bike at 100 and smoked until the age of 117. She also survived a husband (food poisoning), her only daughter (pneumonia) and her lone grandson (car accident).
As some ethicists have started to ask, how much life is too much?
The answer to that question is deeply personal, of course. But it is political as well — because the average life expectancy in the United States has already doubled over the past 200 years, to 78.7, while in other parts of the world it has stalled at 52.
Those pushing for extreme longevity are also the ultimate “haves,” white, male tech billionaires: The founders of Google and Facebook have put huge money behind anti-aging research; SENS is backed by PayPal’s Peter Thiel and German internet entrepreneur Michael Greve.
“I doubt there are many people in Ethiopia or Bangladesh who are clapping their hands at the idea that some rich guy in Silicon Valley is trying to live another 100 years if their kids are dying from malnutrition or some easily handled health problem,” says bioethicist Arthur Caplan.
And if only the ultra-rich can afford longevity therapies, could their success lead to a new underclass of the un-enhanced, “parallel populations,” as University of Manchester philosopher John Harris has described it, “of mortals and immortals existing alongside one another”?
Greater access to radical longevity would create it’s own problems. How long would non-aging super-centenarians be expected to work? It’s one thing to sit in a comfy academic lab, says Wolpe, it’s another to flip burgers or pull boxes out of shipping containers for 200 years.
How would we even make room for new generations? Would the oldest of the old migrate to other planets, or submit to “generational cleansing” at some cheerily agreed-upon age? “Life’s been great, thanks! Time to get off the train.”
Social norms around sex, love and marriage would “inevitably change” as well, says Joel Michael Reynolds of The Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute. For example, what would a socially acceptable age difference look like for couples living well past 100 — 20 years, 30, 50? Would people still marry in their 20s or 30s but reproduce at, say, age 50 or 60? Would the institution of marriage erode entirely if the death in “till death do us part” was well out of sight? Already divorce rates among the over 65s have tripled since 1980.
Family dynamics would become ever more complex with five, six or more generations living at the same time. “If all of them are still alive that’s more than 200 people I have some relationship and responsibility to,” says Wolpe. “What if they all have some sense of expectation of me?” Sandwich generation would take on a whole new meaning.
Would a radically extended life be crushingly dull?
“Many believe that it is precisely our knowledge of our imminent mortality that makes us most human,” Wolpe says, and that we’re diminished when the finishing line keeps getting pushed back. Society also benefits from a continuing flow of fresh people and fresh ideas.
“Look, I want to live to 150, too,” says Wolpe. “I mean, don’t misunderstand me. I want to see my great-grandchildren. I want to see the first people on Mars. I want to see all that Aubrey wants to see. I just don’t pretend that it’s not a narcissistic desire because I can’t think of a single good that would give society.”
De Grey calls at least some of these concerns “bullshit.”
Fertility rates have plummeted, he says, so making room for super-centenarians will not be a problem. And with no ticking biological clock (rejuvenation would include a stretched out reproductive period, de Grey believes) women may be less interested in rushing into that “terribly time consuming” thing, having children.
Nor is he swayed by arguments that our immortality brings a sense of urgency to life. “Think back to the first time you got laid,” de Grey said during a live chat on Reddit two years ago. “Were you thinking ‘omigod I totally have to get this person into bed right now because I only have another 60 years to live?’ I don’t think so.”
If anything, he argues, a longer life opens the door to great opportunities to do and experience more.
As for potential boredom, he quotes Brian Kennedy, former CEO of the prestigious Buck Institute for Research on Aging and a member of the SENS scientific advisory board: “If I had a choice between being bored at 150 and getting Alzheimer’s at age 80 I think I’m going to chose being bored, thank you very much.”
Even Harris, director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester, concedes that for all the dystopic risks of extreme longevity, few among us wouldn’t want to live longer.
Saving a life and extending a life are part of the same continuum, he says. When we save a life, with defibrillators or bypass surgery or by pulling someone who’s drowning out of a lake, we move the time of death from something “very proximate indeed.”
“We all believe in postponing deaths. We all want our own deaths postponed and we invest vast amounts as individuals and societies in methodologies for achieving that. To withdraw from that is to say that postponing death is not a good thing.”
“For all but our most recent history, death was a common, ever-present possibility,” surgeon Atul Gawande writes in his book, Being Mortal. “It didn’t matter if you were five or 50. Every day was a roll of the dice.”
Life expectancy has increased in the West mainly because fewer children are dying before that fifth birthday, mostly thanks to improved nutrition, sanitation and vaccines. But modern medicine has also helped the “bottom to drop out later and later,” as Gawande puts it — past 50, past 80, past 100. In Canada, for the first time in history, there are now more over-65s than under 15s, and the biggest boom is in the centenarians, whose numbers grew by 41 per cent from 2011 to 2016.
Still, when we do die we tend to follow a predictable period of decline. Our lungs start to give out, our reflexes slow, our vision dims. Reach inside an old person during surgery, Gawande writes, and “the aorta and other major vessels can feel crunchy under your fingers,” like bubble wrap. By age 85, half of us will have three or more major chronic diseases.
But de Grey hopes to pull us out of that dive. Reach age 40, say, and then go in for a series of “rejuvenation” tune-ups that return us to the biological fitness (inside and out) of a a 20- or 30-year-old. Repeat a few decades later. And again, and again — until we achieve what De Grey calls “longevity escape velocity,” renewal at a pace faster than aging.
SENS-funded researchers, some of them leaders in their field, are working towards a panel of rejuvenation therapies to repair or eliminate seven different kinds of biological “junk” that accumulates as we age — cell loss, mutations in chromosomes, death-resistant cells, and so on — so that, like rockfish or lobster, we are able to get seriously old without falling apart.
“Once we’ve got to the point where this therapy is sufficiently comprehensive,” de Grey says, “then of course one can do it as often as one likes. One can choose to be biologically 50, or biologically 20, depending on how frequently and how thoroughly one applies these therapies.”
At least, that’s the theory. According to de Grey’s forecasts, SENS 1.0 has a 50-50 chance of happening within five years. And many questions remain: Every time we push the reset button, would we lose our experiences and memories? What if these biotechnologies work well in some people, not so much in others?
Truth is, the human lifespan has remained more or less constant for the last 100,000 years. Dr. Yves Joanette, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Centre on Aging thinks it’s more or less fixed. “We may push it forward a bit. But I don’t think it’s going to be doubled, or tripled, or made eternal.”
According to a prescient 2003 report by George W. Bush’s presidential council on the bioethics of “ageless bodies,” even if diabetes, all cardiovascular diseases and all cancers were eradicated, the life expectancy at birth in the U.S. would rise to about 90, a decent increase but a long way to de Grey’s 1,000-year-old human.
And even in a world of near-immortals, death will never disappear. There will always be wars and homicides and new diseases. We will always face risks that have nothing to do with how long ago we were born, de Grey says, “whether it’s being hit by a truck or Earth being hit by an asteroid.”
For now, de Gray says he’s experiencing few signs of aging, although his eyesight is starting to go and his Dumbledore beard is streaked lightly with grey.
And he doesn’t fear death. He wears a seatbelt on car rides and declines speaking engagements in dangerous countries. “But that’s not being scared,” he says. “That’s just being careful.”
“I don’t have time to be scared.”
show source http://nationalpost.com/feature/do-you-really-want-to-live-foreverish