Following on from a recent post on the subject, here is another article from the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on strategies and efforts to persuade the world to support work aimed at greatly lengthening healthy human life spans. For those of us to whom it is obvious that a very large amount of time and funding should be devoted to this goal, because aging is by far the greatest source of suffering and death, because the cost of bringing aging under medical control is small in comparison to what is spent on trying and failing to cope with it, and for a score of other equally good reasons, it can be frustrating to see that others do not presently think that way. They seem happy to march to their deaths, while at the same time happy to avail themselves of the small gains resulting from the comparatively crude medicine for age-related disease that is presently available. If rejuvenation therapies existed, these same people would use them and be thankful for them, but very few will so much as raise a finger to help create these technologies. It is a challenge.
One of the most frequent questions we at LEAF hear is this: when will innovative therapies to delay, stop and eventually reverse age-related damage become available? This is not an easy question to answer, because the pace of progress depends on many factors – predominantly, funding. Fundamental studies on aging are not well-funded and the accumulation of knowledge necessary to proceed from lab work to clinical trials and then clinical practice does not happen fast enough. Government funding is more often allocated to mainstream areas, such as research on single diseases. Business, for its part, does not show much interest in fundamental science, because usually there is no final product that can be sold. The only other source of funding is the general public. But most people are not yet sufficiently informed about the plausibility of bringing the aging processes under medical control and do not share the values of our community. Sometimes (to be frank, pretty often) activists trying to engage the public in an enlightening conversation can encounter resistance or even rejection.
Learning requires active, conscious participation. This means that students will seek and absorb information if they are interested, or they will ignore it if they do not see any personal benefit in it. So what do most people want? It’s life extension right? Wrong! Studies show that when people are asked “how long would you like to live?” with no other conditions specified, people added around 5 to 10 years to the average life expectancy for their country and that was it. If we do not first explain the aging processes, the connection with age-related diseases and the repair based solutions that lead to healthy longevity, people think longevity means a longer life of prolonged ill health and frailty. Who wants to spend another ten or twenty years in a wheelchair or in a care home? And this is exactly the image most people have when these words are used. This is what the expression “life extension” means to the majority of people – and this is why we should avoid beginning the conversation with it.
At the same time, sociological studies show that if the possibility of perfect health throughout life is introduced into the equation from the very beginning, people show much more interest and support for the idea of prolonging life. People literally switch from one camp to the other, those who just did not want to live for more than 80 years now decide they want to live to more than a hundred, and those who just wanted to get to 120 are suddenly ready to live to 150 or beyond. People are ready to support the development of new medical technologies, even scary ones like gene therapies or gene editing, under the condition they are going to be used for treatment. However their use for the prolongation of life belongs to the category of “human enhancement” and as such the idea is most often rejected. So it is highly recommended for advocates to add that these technologies will help treat or prevent serious chronic diseases, while extended lifespans will just be a possible nice side-effect.