Magazine article The Futurist

The Benefits of Immortality: Increasing Human Life-Spans by Several Decades Could Save Trillions of Dollars in Medical Costs as We Wipe out Heart Disease, Cancer, and Other Maladies

Magazine article The Futurist

The Benefits of Immortality: Increasing Human Life-Spans by Several Decades Could Save Trillions of Dollars in Medical Costs as We Wipe out Heart Disease, Cancer, and Other Maladies

Article excerpt

To reach human immortality we must follow Rule #1 of antiaging medicine: Don't die.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, once we reach age 65, men can expect to live an additional 15.8 years, and women can expect an additional 17.6 years. That's enough to bridge the gap between medical knowledge of today and the medical knowledge we will have in our grasp in 10 years, thanks to the work of the Human Genome Project, stem-cell research, and nanotechnology. We will then begin to realize the fruits of this endeavor by achieving the technology necessary to accomplish mankind's oldest wish: practical immortality--life-spans of 200 years and beyond. Those physicians and scientists providing for the safe and effective means for both the very early detection and the aggressive yet gentle treatment of disease, whether they brand themselves as such or not, are in fact practicing the newest and fastest-growing medical specialty--antiaging health care. In this capacity, these medical visionaries serve as the expert navigators for this newly created optimal health and maximum human life-span.

The coming double-centenarian human life-span will redefine the socioeconomic order. Accompanying a trend of overall extended life-span, humankind will evolve toward an Ageless Society, in which we all experience boundless physical and mental vitality. We will gladly follow three to four careers per lifetime, with ample leisure along the way.

The Financial Benefit Of Longevity

Longevity profoundly alters the economic framework of every nation in which residents are living longer. Until we've eradicated the age-related decline in health that leads to many of us becoming dependent and disabled in our older years, society will bear increasing financial costs to sustain the older population.

Old-age dependency rates will rise in every major world region during the next 25 years. In the absence of scientific solutions that halt the onset of the degenerative diseases of aging, the elderly support burden in the year 2025 will be 50% larger than that in 1998.

So, just how much are our extra years of life worth? Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel of the University of Chicago Business School used a value per-life of $5 million (extrapolated from accident payouts by insurers) to calculate what the six years' gain in average life expectancy during 1970-1990 alone were worth across the total U.S. population. By their calculations, the added longevity in the United States was worth $2.4 trillion a year.

Even more financial gains could be made if the leading causes of death were to be eradicated. Murphy and Topel estimate that eliminating deaths from heart disease would generate an economic value of $48 trillion, and curing cancer would be worth $47 trillion. Reducing the death rate from either heart disease or cancer by 20% would be worth around $10 trillion to Americans--more than one year's U.S. gross domestic product.

From an economic standpoint, antiaging research could thus produce a significant return on investment. In 1995, the total U.S. medical research budget was $36 billion. Compared to the 1,300-fold annual gain resulting from increased longevity, the ROI on medical research more than adequately underscores the tangible benefit to allocations of dedicated funds for antiaging pursuits.

Realize, however, that antiaging research does not register on the map of the total national medical research budget. It is pure serendipity--spinoff of other work in the fields of cell biology; cancer research, and new drug development. Indeed, since its creation in 1974, the U.S. National Institute on Aging has spent more than $9.4 billion but has yet to turn any medical intervention into a meaningful application to combat the degenerative diseases of aging. Research also needs to become oriented on human clinical research--a departure from the present focus on basic science studies conducted on laboratory animals. …

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