THE AGING: LEGAL AND ETHICAL PERSONHOOD IN CULTURE CHANGE
LAURENCE R. TANCREDI AND LOLA ROMANUCCI-ROSS
"Aging" in recent years has become a source of fascination to medical and social science researchers. Therefore, we now have some theories on the aging process. Currently, leading schools of thought focus on biological events, one of which is the "Hayflick limit" of cell division, which is that there are finite and determined programmed intracellular events under genetic control. Others are the "defective enzymes due to faulty messages" theory, the accumulation of "metabolic-waste-in cells" theory, and the theory of "free radicals" -- electrically charged unbalanced forms of oxygen that can be chemically destructive. Whether old age is the cause of disease or its characteristics are caused by disease is a question whose answer still eludes us. Yet we have made some progress since the early part of the twentieth century, when some distinguished physicians (such as Nobel Prize-winner Elie Metch-nikoff) proposed that disabilities in old age were caused by syphilis, alcoholism, or a poison produced by the bacteria of the large intestine. Biological theories, however, address neither the existential problematic role of the elderly nor bioethics and its legal implications.
In technologically simple societies, the elderly were and are highly respected, and growing old, an accomplishment, is the achievement of a status. The aged are keepers of the lore, the reference libraries for celestial navigation, weather prediction, migratory patterns of birds and fish, and arbiters of disputes who know the ancient laws. They know the healing powers of plants and animals and the spirits. They are the repositories of the knowledge of what sustains the culture. Their counsel is constantly sought, by tribal people as well as by anthropologists. It can be good to be old in an