We want better lives, not longer ones
“A hundred and ruddy 20 … within 30 years, that’s what they’re saying … just imagine, being 50 again … after all, we are simply material cells … ah, but what about the mind?”
A post-bingo conversation with some of my crumbly friends in the community centre. We are discussing the new prospect of amortality. It has created a major row among academics, with the publication of a paper by Jan Vijg, an eminent geneticist, suggesting there is an upper limit of around 115 years before we shuffle off this mortal coil being vigorously challenged by Professor Jim Vaupel, a specialist in ageing, and colleagues, who maintain there is no ceiling on longevity.
Amortality is the current cherry on the scientific cake. The basic creed seems to be that all our organs are simply machines that, like car parts, start to malfunction with use and age, and that, to continue the analogy, can be either repaired or replaced.
Ageing is an issue on which, as a member of the crumbly generation, I feel I can comment with authority. Not only am I old, I also spend a day a week working with people with early-onset dementia. From my perspective, the amortality proposal is the product of academic hubris. It does not factor in the reality of longevity.
I would appeal to the scientific elite to stop squabbling over the medical equivalent of angels on pinheads and to use their privileged talents to attend to the real needs of the elderly.
We need purpose not redundancy, meaning not irrelevance, dignity not distress. In other words, we simply want to lead better lives, not longer ones.