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Toward Immortality: The Social Burden of Longer Lives - 05-24-2006, 07:25 AM

To live forever while preserving health and retaining the semblance and vigor of youth is one of humanity's oldest and most elusive goals.

Now, after countless false starts and disappointments, some scientists say we could finally be close to achieving lifetimes that are, if not endless, at least several decades longer. This modern miracle, they say, will come not from drinking revitalizing waters or from transmuted substances, but from a scientific understanding of how aging affects our bodies at the cellular and molecular levels.

Whether through genetic tinkering or technology that mimics the effects of caloric restriction—strategies that have successfully extended the lives of flies, worms and mice—a growing number of scientists now think that humans could one day routinely live to 140 years of age or more.

Extreme optimists such as Aubrey de Gray think the maximum human lifespan could be extended indefinitely, but such visions of immortality are dismissed by most scientists as little more than science fiction.

While scientists go back and forth on the feasibility of slowing, halting or even reversing the aging process, ethicists and policymakers have quietly been engaged in a separate debate about whether it is wise to actually do so.

A doubled lifespan

If scientists could create a pill that let you live twice as long while remaining free of infirmities, would you take it?

If one considers only the personal benefits that longer life would bring, the answer might seem like a no-brainer: People could spend more quality time with loved ones; watch future generations grow up; learn new languages; master new musical instruments; try different careers or travel the world
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