Dessie is a hundred years old.
By most standards this is a ripe old age, one most of us would be grateful to be given. Assuming our health remained decent, most of us would be content to live for seventy or eighty years.
Help Them See the Future, a joint venture between Integrated Health Systems and Maximum Life Foundation, created a campaign to give Dessie gene therapies designed to halt or potentially reverse some of the hallmarks of aging. We are sad to announce that, after suffering a stroke shortly after the campaign was launched, Dessie is no longer a suitable candidate for treatment.
There may be some ignorant bystanders who take glee in seeing an elderly woman go without this intervention. Yet their reasoning is not just inhumane, it is also profoundly flawed – rooted in basic misunderstandings about history and demography.
Aging is the most devastating and unforgiving killer in modern times. Our ancestors had to fear plague and famine, but thanks to the work of innovators like Jonas Salk and Norman Borlaug, humanity has largely overcome them. Today we are faced with an enemy many people do not even want to acknowledge. Ensnared by a strange and often sanctimonious sort Stockholm Syndrome, detractors of life extension believe death is morally acceptable because it is “natural.”
Civilization would be worse off if our ancestors were as apathetic to contagions and crop shortages as we are to the source of the most horrific afflictions known to humankind. Human beings are uniquely equipped to transcend their limitations. We do not need to accept what nature imposes upon us and, fortunately for us, our grandparents and great grandparents did not. What set our species apart was its emphatic rejection of nature’s “plan.” Better said, it is our capacity to reject it. In the case of death and aging, we have chosen not to use this gift.
Now, for very practical and pressing reasons, we must.
Large swathes of the world are faced with aging populations and plummeting fertility rates. Communities composed almost entirely of people who need to be cared are not sustainable. The prophets of the overpopulation myth, like Paul Ehrlich, have been consistently wrong in their predictions. C. James Townsend, author of the (misleadingly titled) book, Socialism and the Singularity, recounts a famous wager the doomsayer had with UMD Professor and Cato Institute Fellow Julian Simon:
“Simon told Ehrlich to choose any five commodities and that they would be cheaper and more abundant in ten years than they are today. Ehrlich took the bet and theorized that all five metals that he chose: copper, nickel, tin, chrome, and tungsten, would be more expensive and scarcer in ten years’ time. He summarily lost the bet as every commodity that he chose was cheaper and more abundant, as Simon had predicted.”
One of the three guarantees of the Declaration of Independence is life. It is the first for a reason. Without it, nothing on this earth can be realized. Nothing can be thought or built, nothing can be made or even dreamed. Benjamin Franklin, almost always ahead of his time, saw the promise of future longevity technology as a means not just to extend our stays on earth, but to uplift humanity as a whole by removing its most dreaded enemy. After lamenting that he had been born too early in history, he speculates that:
“All Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as fair a Way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and the human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity.”
Gene therapies designed to target aging, like Klotho, telomerase, and follistatin, will one day become commonplace. They will become household words not just for their health benefits, but because they will be seen as indispensable to civilization as food and water. The express mission of Integrated Health Systems is to pioneer the use of gene gene therapy to combat the causes of aging; BioViva Sciences, through its bioinformatics program, is poised to gather and analyze the information needed to refine these treatments and develop new ones.
As Dessie tells us, she did not live a “normal life.” As someone with a less than perfect childhood and an adult life largely consumed by work, she is not unusual. Many of us do not have “normal” lives, at least in the sense that we have an abundance of free time to pursue our passions. What time we have on this planet is devoured by survival.
A hundred years is not nearly enough.