This classic column was originally published March 11, 2000.
Whether living longer is good or bad was the subject of a conference of scientists, social philosophers and theologians in Philadelphia recently. I hadn’t realized there was any question about it. I was surprised at how many people attending didn’t approve of efforts being made by science and medicine to prolong our lives.
“The finitude of human life is a blessing for every individual whether he knows it or not,” said Dr. Leon Kass of the University of Chicago. I know death is not a blessing. It may be good in Dr. Kass’ mind but it doesn’t appeal to me at all. He’s 60 years old. I’d like to hear him say he doesn’t favor longer life when he’s 80. Life may seem long to someone young looking at the vast expanse of years ahead, but it looks short to anyone my age looking back.
“Where did it all go?” is the question people my age ask. “How did I get so old so quick?” At age 80, I’m clearly not ready to go. Life is good and I’ve never enjoyed my work, my friends and my family more.
Some of the professional religious people at the conference argued that a person should be able to satisfy all his ambitions in a life 80 years long. I’m not dissatisfied with my accomplishments, but I’m still ambitious and still have dreams of doing a lot more.
No one wants to live to be very old with a mind and body that are used up and no longer anything like what they once were. Scientists seem to think they can lengthen life in a good and natural way that would provide 50 or 100 more healthy and happy years.
Scientists say there are two ways that life might be extended. One would be to find a cure for the diseases that kill us, like cancer, and the other would be to work on the basic process by which aging takes place in the human body and change that.