Monday, May 18, 2009

Breathtaking lives don't need immortality

I recently read in the newspaper a Y-Press column about immortality, titled "Would you want to live forever?" The article, authored by six youth aged 13-17, discussed the book Tuck Everlasting and immortality as seen by an English biomedical researcher.

Tuck Everlasting, a fantasy children’s novel written in 1975 by Natalie Babbitt, is about a family that discovers a spring under the roots of a giant tree. Whoever drinks from the spring is given eternal life. Teenage Winnie Foster falls in love with Jesse Tuck and has to decide whether to join him in immortality or live (and die) as the rest of world does.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey is an English biomedical gerontologist who is developing therapies that he believes would extend human lives by hundreds of years. His efforts are being promoted through the SENS Foundation and the Methuselah Foundation.

The authors of the column ask the question “Is radical life extension or immortality a good thing?” Most of the young people, who had read the book several years before and liked the idea of immortality, had changed their minds.

A 10-year old boy interviewed for the story said that aging is part of life. An 11-year old girl said, “Life would just go on and on and on. You wouldn’t value it as much.”

I like that, but my favorite comment comes from a 17-year old young woman who said, “I just don’t think life would be as important or as breathtaking or fun if you have so much of it.”

Breathtaking? When was the last time you thought life was “breathtaking?” We live in a world that is obsessed with being young. We often think the best years of our lives are behind us. Our preoccupation with the loss of our youth prevents us from welcoming the exciting events of the journey ahead.

Value, important , breathtaking and fun..what wonderful words to describe life and our personal journeys! When we think about the best way to spend our time, we ought to consider what will be there when we are gone.

Channeling our actions into what will outlast us and build our legacy. It may be the lessons we teach children, the trees we plant, the letters we write to family and friends, or the minds we enrich. Age matters less when we pour ourselves into people and things that will, in their own way, continue us.

Like a character in Tuck Everlasting says, “Don’t be afraid of death – be afraid of the unlived life.” Maybe someday people will describe you and your life – and me and mine -- as breathtaking.

Helen Dillon
Helen Dillon
Project Director


Ben Esler said...

That would be nice. :)

What would be even nicer would be to live a breathtaking life that doesn't culminate in a decades long period of ever increasing suffering, decrepitude and dementia, and that stays breathtaking for many years to come.

Seriously.... you don't hear people making these sorts of arguments against cancer research. Why not? That extends life span too. Would thinking of cancer researchers as frivolous and neurotic and narcissistic be acceptable, the way it seems to be for aging researchers and their advocates?

I put it to you that it would not, and that the reason for this is that people recognize that cancer is a terrible disease which deprives people of liberty and causes them to suffer and die needlessly. ...So it is with aging. Aging is a process of cellular decay and degeneration which causes biological havoc and ends in death. It kills 100 000 people every single day. ...It's defeat should be humanity's first scientific priority.

Long life and meaningful life are not mutually exclusive terms.

Anonymous said...

The difference between aging and cancer is that aging is a natural part of life. Everyone experiences it. Cancer, although rampant, does not effect everyone (yet) and also takes away life or shortens it. So cancer research doesn't extend live, it only gives back live that the cancer was going to take. That is the difference in my mind. I also think that the point of the article is not to strive for immortality, it is to live each day to the fullest, no matter how many we have.

CuddlyCoyote said...

Why would fighting aging and living each day to the fullest be mutually exclusive? I would say that because one who lives very joyfull days will be more eager to extend his or her life.

It also appears to me that these interviewed youngsters somehow unconciously assume that one need scarcity of time to have an incentive to go enjoying the time you have. I think it would be more appropriate to understand that each day you live not to the fullest you will feel relatively bad and that you rehearse this understanding for yourself each time you are somehow not motivated to make the best of it.

Furthermore I do not understand the validity of the argument that aging is natural and that you therefore should accept it. There are lots of things natural things in live which we circumvent and at the same time there is much artificial stuff that we use all the time. I regard it better to judge both natural and artificial phenomena on their qualitative and quantitative health risks and benefits.