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 below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Bailey, Ronald. "Transhumanism: The Most Dangerous Idea?" Reason. Aug. 25, 2004. (May 4, 2009)
  • Boutin, Paul. "Battling Time's Ravages." Wall Street Journal. Sept. 8, 2007. (May 4, 2009)
  • Britt, Robert Roy. "Live Longer: The One Anti-Aging Trick That Works." LiveScience. July 8, 2008. (May 4, 2009)
  • DeSimone, Bonnie. "Growth Hormone: The Secret of Youth or a Cautionary Tale?" New York Times. April 11, 2006. (May 4, 2009)
  • Kuczynski, Alex. "Anti-Aging Potion or Poison?" New York Times. April 12, 1998. (May 4, 2009)
  • McCarthy, Susan. "On immortality." Salon. March 30, 2000. (May 4, 2009)
  • McGowan, Kathleen. "Can We Cure Aging?" Discover Magazine. Dec. 4, 2007. (May 4, 2009)
  • Nuland, Sherwin. "Do You Want to Live Forever?" Technology Review. February 2005. (May 4, 2009)
  • Olshansky, S. Jay and Bruce Carnes. "The Quest for Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging." W.W. Norton and Company. 2001.
  • Olshansky, S. Jay, Daniel Perry, Richard A. Miller and Robert N. Butler. "In Pursuit of the Longevity Dividend: What Should We Be Doing to Prepare for the Unprecedented Aging of Humanity?" The Scientist. March 2006. (May 4, 2009)
  • Pollack, Andrew. "Forget Botox. Anti-Aging Pills May Be Next." New York Times. Sept. 21, 2003. (May 4, 2009)
  • Saletan, William. "Among the Transhumanists." Slate. June 4, 2006. (May 4, 2009)
  • Than, Ker. "Extending Human Life: Progress and Promises." LiveScience. May 24, 2006. (May 4, 2009)
  • Than, Ker. "The Ethical Dilemmas of Immortality." LiveScience. May 23, 2006. (May 4, 2009)
  • Than, Ker. "The Psychological Strain of Living Forever." LiveScience. May 24, 2006. (May 4, 2009)
  • Than, Ker. "Toward Immortality: The Social Burden of Longer Lives." LiveScience. May 22, 2006. (May 4, 2009)

More to Explore