Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Death comes equally to us all..."

I wonder why it is that human beings have this desire to live on and on and on. Why are we as individuals and as a society always striving to extend human life? If we are not trying to do it medically, we are trying to do it via some religious belief system, either by means of eternal life or reincarnation.

Almost every day on the news we hear of some breakthrough that will extend human life, or of some new avenue of research with this goal in mind.  It seems to me that for human beings to live longer and longer is not good for this planet or for society. The planet can barely sustain the human population today. Extending our lifespan will only lead to further increases in that population. With what consequences? Younger generations are already struggling financially to support an aging population. How will society cope with an even more top heavy age structure?

Yet the drive to extend the human lifespan rolls on relentlessly, without any consideration of these broader consequences. We are like an addict, who knows that their drug of choice is doing them irreparable harm, but goes on using anyway because of the perceived short term gain. In fact, selfish, short term gain seems to be what ultimately drives our society.

I am happy to go on living as long as I am reasonably healthy and happy. For each of us, the point at which this ceases to be the case will differ. However, I do not want to be sustained in life by taking dozens of pills a day. I do not want to be continuously rebuilt when I start to break down. Death is a natural and essential part of life. I don’t fear it, and I don’t perceive it as an enemy that needs to be defeated. I don’t necessarily welcome it either. But I do recognise its necessity, and I will not surrender to that selfish and egocentric drive that demands that I go on forever. I reject the promises and assurances of both medical science and religion. I will die. I should die. When the time comes, younger people with new ideas should and will replace me. I hope, when that time comes, that I will have done a reasonable job, that I will have made my contribution.

I will finish this piece with two “ifs”.

If, when I grow older and my health begins to fail, I too try desperately to cling on to life at any cost, it will be because I have succumbed to fear and that terribly strong egocentric drive that haunts us. Or else it will be because I perceive myself to have failed in some way and want a chance to do better.

If science is going to continue this pursuit of extending human life, we as a society cannot ignore the broader consequences of this for the planet and for society. We need to be willing to tackle courageously the problems that this brings about. At the moment, we are too deeply buried in denial.

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