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I was moved to wonder about this after seeing another article in today’s Herald about ageing. Or, more particularly, about slowing/stopping the ageing process & thereby extending the period of our natural lifespan. Rapamycin got a look-in as well. And there was something about how the French manage to lead long & presumably healthy lives. (Having experienced my brother’s creamy, rich cooking while staying with them last year, I have no idea how he & his family remain a) healthy & b) slim!)

On the global level, average life expectancy is around 66-67 years (depending on whose figures you use). Metropolitan France (excluding its various territories/protectorates around the world) is placed 9th or 10th in terms of life expectancy at birth (81 years – New Zealand, on 80, isn’t that far behind). While 66 may not sound too flash, remember that a couple of hundred years ago life expectancies were even lower – we’ve come a long way in some parts of the world, thanks to modern medicine & other technological advances. But, given that some fortunate individuals do live much longer – 120 years or more – maybe there’s something in the research by various groups into ways to further postpone the Grim Reaper’s visit? (Like some other countries, the US even has a National Institute on Ageing, dealing in part with just this sort of research.)

Well, yes, quite possibly there are. (Although, as I commented previously, it’s a big jump from mice to men). But I have to ask, why are we bothering? Why put so much effort into investigating ways to further extend life for those fortunate enough to live in developed nations, when there are so many other, perhaps more pressing, problems? And even within developed countries (like our own), there really is a need for serious debate on how we spend our money – for example, on whether we should continue to pursue means of extending life at both ends. (Please note, this is not the same as research into making the far end of our current lifespan more comfortable.)

And anyway, why do we worry so much about ageing? In the sense of doing all we can to delay it, whether cosmetically, surgically, or pharmacologically. I guess there are two questions there, really: why does our society so value the appearance of youth? And why the desire to live ever longer? Not just to be as healthy & comfortable as possible in our current span, but to further extend that span.(Gosh, that’s a lot of questions! Most of which I don’t think I can actually answer.) Even my Significant Other has been heard to wonder why I won’t dye my hair, preferring instead to go grey gracefully…

After all, there is an elephant in the room here. Nowhere in the articles I’ve read about this have I seen any recognition on the social & environmental impacts of having large numbers of people living increasingly longer. Unless this was matched by a decline in birthrate, then it would only contribute further to the problems inherent in having a continually growing population in a finite biosphere. This cannot be a good thing.

And what would this elder-heavy population do, anyway? If you weren’t in the happy position of being able to always seek out new experiences & opportunities, then I suspect your days would quickly become same old, same old… Not a prospect that I would look forward to.