08 July 2011

Even if it kills me

Susan Erasmus doesn't want to live to the age of 150, even if it kills her.


Susan Erasmus doesn't want to live to the age of 150, even if it kills her.

It was one of the most shocking discoveries of my early youth: that everyone will die one day. Or if they're not so lucky, very soon. To a child life seems such a given. And parents seem so all-powerful. The thought that even they could not outwit the Grim Reaper struck terror into my heart.

Now scientists are talking about 'advances' in the medical field that could lead to people reaching the age of 150.

In fact, according to the news story, "if biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey's predictions are right, the first person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born. And the first person to live for 1,000 years could be less than 20 years younger."

OK, I hear you thinking. Imagine all the aches and pains and the diseases normally associated with ageing?The old story goes:  Q: Who wants to be 80? A: Someone who is 79.

De Grey reckons that within his own lifetime doctors could have all the tools they need to "cure" ageing- banishing diseases that come with it and extending life indefinitely.

The ancient story springs to mind of the horrible fate of the Sybil at Cumae, who was a priestess. She lived to be a thousand years old after Apollo granted her eternal life in exchange for her virginity. But she neglected to ask for eternal youth.Eventually all that was left of her was a voice in a cage – and all she asked for was to die.

Do we have a natural lifespan? Is it right for us to fiddle with this? To a very large extent we already have. In developed countries most people can expect to live beyond their 80th birthday, which is more than the traditional life expectancy of 70 (a Biblical threescore and ten). In many other countries the average lifespan can be as little as 35 years.

Imagine living for 150 years – technically that means that one person in their lifetime could experience the Great Trek and the moon landing – and have a few years to spare.

There is of course the issue of an ageing, retired population and the question of the cost of their care. Pension funds can only be stretched so far if people retire at 65. This is why countries such as France are now considering increasing the age of retirement to 67. Also, geriatric care is expensive. It's not always just about quantity. Quality also comes into it.

Am I saying it is our social responsibility to die at our naturally appointed time? I probably wouldn't feel that way if it were the day before my own death, but I do actually think that given our overpopulation problems, we should bow out when we have had a decent innings. By all means, stay healthy until the end, but who on earth would you invite to your 150th birthday party?

As with all things in life, there is a time to come and a time to go. Let's not overstay our welcome.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, July2011)


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