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Can we end aging?


Implications of Ending Aging
Is Earth big enough for both of them?
Is Earth big enough for both of them?
Huntstock/Photodisc/Getty Images

Many scientists frame the race to end aging as a financial issue. By investing money in the research and development of an anti-aging pill now, then future generations will save on the cost of treating millions of individuals with cancer or Alzheimer's. This delayed benefit is sometimes referred to as the longevity dividend. But pursuing a longevity dividend would also require changing the way societies currently work. For example, if humans truly do live longer, then they'll likely be required to work longer. While this might bring them a greater amount of personal wealth and postpone the point at which they'll begin drawing from the social security system, it also presents problems for younger workers trying to get a foot in the door.

That is, if younger workers even exist. One biomedical gerontologist, Aubrey de Grey, wouldn't be surprised if, when we reach immortality, we stop having children and focus on other pursuits [source: Nuland]. Indeed, one has to wonder if there will be restrictions on having children, since these people who are living longer will have to compete for the Earth's limited resources with the young. And if extending life can also extend the time in which a woman is fertile, we may have a complete shift in the family unit. Siblings could be decades apart, and marriages may not be "til death do us part" anymore. After all, if death is a lot farther away, then you may not be as inclined to stick it out with a spouse you no longer love.

Of course, there are positive benefits to consider -- if you are truly in love, you'll have more time to spend with that spouse, and you'll be around to hold your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You'll have more time to pursue your interests and hobbies, and might even get around to writing that novel or taking up the guitar. But what if your habits are less savory? Say, for example, that someone as evil as Adolf Hitler or Osama bin Laden had the means to extend life -- what would we do then? Will longer-living people only hold on to the religious and political grudges that underlie so many worldwide conflicts? Is it selfish to extend our life span when so many people in other parts of the world already die from preventable causes?

These types of issues are already being debated by bioethicists, even though it seems that we're still years away from being able to consume a pill that will bring us more life. While the ethicists debate and the scientists experiment, get yourself up-to-date on life extension methods by reading the articles on the next page.