Magazine article The Futurist

The Consequences of Living Longer: A Cure for Aging Could Create Difficult Choices for Society

Magazine article The Futurist

The Consequences of Living Longer: A Cure for Aging Could Create Difficult Choices for Society

Article excerpt

A cure for aging could create difficult choices for society.

Advances in new medicine and gene research could extend the human life-span to hundreds of years. But science's achievement could also create a series of new dilemmas for societies of the future. One growing problem will be caring for the elderly.

"The next 10 years at least will be a time of growing demand for the services of home care and hospice providers, but also a time of growing constraints," write forecasters Marvin Cetron and Owen Davies in Cheating Death: The Promise and the Future Impact of Trying to Live Forever. "Third-party payers will grow more willing to underwrite any service that promises to reduce the overall cost of patient care, but an expanding share of the nation's health care will be handled through managed-care systems. The trend toward providing high-tech health care in the home setting can only grow but there will be a shortage of trained, or even trainable, personnel to perform new and complex therapeutic procedures."

If new medical technology significantly postpones the natural death of millions, overpopulation could reach levels well beyond today's dire predictions. The added burden on the environment could increase pollution and sap our resources more rapidly. And if rich Westerners live greatly extended lives in comfort, Third World extremists could retaliate with terrorist attacks, Cetron and Davies warn.

A sobering near-term fact of life looms ahead: the burden that will be created when 76 million U.S. baby boomers retire in the next half-century.

"This mass exodus from the work force will be the single most important social policy challenge facing the country during the next three decades," argue William Styring and Thomas Duesterberg, policy analysts from the Hudson Institute.

As boomers retire in huge numbers, beginning in 2011, health-care costs are expected to climb, while the ratio of potential workers to potential retirees will be cut in half between 2010 and 2030. According to a Social Security Administration projection, the payroll tax rate needed to maintain Medicare and Social Security at current levels would have to increase to 31% in 2020 and to more than 50% in 2030. …

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