“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” ― Oscar Wilde

How Long Do You Want to Live?

Comments for this NYTimes.com article, posted August 25, are closed. Good thing there are blogs and Twitter.

How long we live is not as important as quality of life — quality of physical, mental and emotional health. While breakthroughs in science and medicine may improve our physical health, our individual (as well as collective human) mental and emotional health — coping with newly discovered longevity — would be harder to maintain if we lived longer.

I think it’s probably pretty selfish to want to live forever, and to want others to live forever.

Over the past three years I have posed this query to nearly 30,000 people at the start of talks and lectures on future trends in bioscience, taking an informal poll as a show of hands. To make it easier to tabulate responses I provided four possible answers: 80 years, currently the average life span in the West; 120 years, close to the maximum anyone has lived; 150 years, which would require a biotech breakthrough; and forever, which rejects the idea that life span has to have any limit at all.

I made it clear that participants should not assume that science will come up with dramatic new anti-aging technologies, though people were free to imagine that breakthroughs might occur — or not.

The results: some 60 percent opted for a life span of 80 years. Another 30 percent chose 120 years, and almost 10 percent chose 150 years. Less than 1 percent embraced the idea that people might avoid death altogether.

Others were concerned about a range of issues both personal and societal that might result from extending the life spans of millions of people in a short time. These included everything from boredom and the cost of paying for a longer life to the impact of so many extra people on planetary resources and on the environment. Some worried that millions of healthy centenarians still working and calling the shots in society would leave our grandchildren and great-grandchildren without the jobs and opportunities that have traditionally come about with the passing of generations. – DAVID EWING DUNCAN

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