Your Health and Your Lifespan -3

February 29, 2004

The Inequities of Youth Extension and/or Restoration
   
The idea that some of our elderly or our yet-to-become elderly may live on beyond their times may seem quite unfair to those who are expected to work to support them. The idea that so many couch potatoes who have contributed nothing to society, and who will contribute nothing to society should be allowed to live longer when so many wonderful people have already died may also seem quite inequitable. Shouldn't the right to live longer turn upon one's contributions to society?
    I've certainly had these thoughts. 
It isn't taking long for society to adjust to greater average life expectancies
    However, Alan Greenspan's advice to Congress that retirement ages for seniors be indexed to growing life expectancies shows just how quickly the system will adjust to accommodate increases in average life spans. Nothing will happen this year because it's an election year, and besides, this year's budget is already in place. But next year, we may see some changes in the Social Security system, and probably, in other retirement systems. 
One problem: keeping your job after you reach your early fifties
    One sticking point with upping the retirement age is that industry lays off its older workers when they reach their early fifties. After that, they may find it nearly impossible to get a job. A lot of them are involuntarily "retired" quite early, and I suppose, on much smaller pensions than they'd planned. Indexing the retirement age will require some provision for keeping the middle-aged employed. The problem is that a company can hire two bright-eyes-and-bushy-tailed, recently trained recent graduates for the price of one middle-aged journeyman or executive. 
However, I'm not pleased with the prospect of two workers supporting every retiree
    Seeing the ways in which my age-peers spend their time doesn't make me eager to see them free to use more of it that way. I wouldn't want to work 50 hours a week to support a bunch of old geezers who spend their days gardening, traveling and playing golf, and I particularly wouldn't want to see them continue this way for year after year at my expense because of youth extension techniques. But in practice, I don't think that this will happen. Most of the members of my generation are dying on schedule. Very few of them are really taking care of themselves, or are even knowledgeable about how to take care of themselves. Most of them are eating themselves to death.
Not terribly many of them exercise aerobically. A few years ago, one of Huntsville's leading doyens, in her mid-80's, was climbing Suicide Hill. But she was the only elder I've ever seen there except for myself. Back in the 80's, when I was swimming a mile a day at the Natatorium, she was also swimming there. But there were at most a few dozen other people in this quarter-of-a-million-population metropolitan area who swam at the Nat. Of course, a lot of people jog or use exercise equipment, so there are many more who stay in shape, but I don't see very many people my age who seem to be doing anything to stay fit... at the time of life when they most need it. So I don't think the existing septuagenarians, octogenarians and nonagenarians will be around to see 2020 unless a breakthrough comes soon, and doesn't require FDA approval to implement wholesale. And if it does, I believe that Congress will take rapid action to ensure that these elders are gainfully employed, even if only as checkout clerks or as greeters at Walmart.
At the present time, it takes unusual effort and knowledge to slow your rate of aging
    Right now, aging amelioration requires considerable effort and commitment, and gerontological knowledge beyond what's widely known. Money alone won't buy it, which makes it fairly fair.
There are an estimated thousand volunteers in the world presently practicing caloric restriction
    I've read recently that there are about a thousand people in the world who are actually practicing caloric-restriction. But even if there are several thousand embracing this strategy around the world, they're only thousands among hundreds of millions. (Most of those who are practicing caloric-restriction seem to be young or middle-aged.)
    Currently, this isn't slated to have much impact upon the demographics of aging.
Shouldn't the right to live longer and better than average be reserved for those who have earned it?
    For what little my opinions are worth, I think that it would be impractical and self-destructive to try to ration aging moderation or reversal to a select few. One problem is that the select few would necessarily include the most wealthy. How could you stop them? It would also include the most powerful. How could you have thwarted a dictator like Saddam Hussein from extending his life span? Some of these ugly dictators could extend their life spans right now with caloric-restriction and other widely available interventions. And maybe any time now, it will happen. But as much as it galls me to see youth-extension technology made available to those who are fighting it to keep it at bay, I don't believe that trying to meter it out as a service reward would work. There would be too much bending of the rules. One would want to see one's relatives lives preserved. I think it has to be as it is now, available to whoever seeks it, or to whoever is able to pay for it. And I think it should be as cheap as possible so that people at all income levels everywhere in the world have equal access to it.

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