Long ago, I read an article written by popular women’s doctor Christiane Northrup. In the article, she addressed the common fear of physical and mental health decline as one ages. Dr. Northrup assured her followers that one can indeed end life “healthy, happy, dead.” She did not/does not believe that we need to expect suffering in the final years. Instead, if we take care of ourselves, Dr. Northrup believes that we can remain vital contributors to society until the very end of life, which, if all goes well, will end suddenly and without suffering.
The fear of decline during the later years of life seems to under gird this Intelligence Squared Debate on the motion that “Lifespans are long enough.” According to the website, those for the motion believe that “radical life extension would lead to overpopulation and depletion of resources…Scientific resources are better spent curing known diseases and improving existing quality of life…[and] Radical life extension is at odds with the natural and cultural process of life and death.” The Intelligence Squared website summarizes the argument of those opposed to the motion as rooted in the beliefs that “radical life extension is simply the next step in scientific and medical progress…Anti-aging technology prevents the suffering of old age and age-related disease…[and] Longer lifespans increase an individual’s ability to contribute wealth to society.”
The major points I found in the debate pro and con are as follows (some of these points are also found in the paragraph above where I cite the summary points from the website):
· Increasing lifespan will lead to a larger population of older and sicker people
· The human lifespan’s natural beginning, middle, and end organizes life, motivating humans to move ahead, make decisions, and fulfill their life purposes before life comes to a natural end
· Extension of the human lifespan will lead to overpopulation and, in turn, depleted natural, social, and economic resources
· The idea that the limits of the “natural” lifespan motivate human accomplishment are paramount to saying that death is preferable to living a long time and being bored
· lt is ageist to believe that elders prefer to retire from life and to cease making contributions to society; in fact, many elders remain vital contributors
· Lifespan extension will not drain resources; instead, as populations age and birth rates decrease, it is important to keep as many people alive, well, and working as possible. The effect of lifespan extension will not pose an additional consequence to resources
If I had been at the debate, I would have voted in favor of extending the lifespan – as long as this extension was made through efforts to increase health span. Evidently, many of those who attended the debate agreed with me. According to the pre- and post-debate voting results, the side opposed to the motion won.
As much as I admire the research of Aubrey de Gray, I think the debate style of Brian Kennedy was far more effective in this situation. Kennedy seemed earnest, well-informed, and reasonable in making his point that the lifespan and healthspan are inter-related and that discovery of health-promoting practices and medical advances will benefit all age groups, thereby substantiating the importance of research into lifespan extension. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed by the philosophical/social arguments of Wolpe and Ground at all. Ground’s rather aggressive debate style seemed sniping as opposed to informative. In addition, both he and Wolpe defined the possibility of a lifespan as having no connection to an increased health span. I tend to define the argument in the way de Gray and Kennedy did: Only through increase in health span will we be able to realize profound increase in the number of people with increased lifespans.
Intelligence Squared Debate. (2019). Lifespans are long enough. Retrieved from https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/lifespans-are-long-enough