Who wants to live forever?
Life expectancy is increasing in some countries around the world. At first glance, this could be considered good news, since almost everyone hopes to live longer and in good health.
But, society will face serious trouble in the near future if the average world population ages with not enough young folk to take over. According to some estimates, by the year 2100 almost a quarter of the world population will be 65 years old or older, while only 5% of the population will be younger than 5. Sounds like the world is going to get a lot more boring. But things could potentially get worse if there aren’t enough young people to do the heavy lifting – namely, manual labour jobs and generating tax revenue to support the aging population.
Is this the warning bell that new approaches should be considered? A few scientists are thinking about extending our ‘health span’ (the healthy parts of our lifespans) to have a productive population even at the advanced age of 80. Sounds fun, if you can afford to retire.
Enter the biotech hype. Various therapies and solutions are being researched – gene therapy, biosensors, and tissue engineering, you name it. On the other hand, pharma giants like Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Merck (NYSE: MRK) shy away from outright announcing they’re tackling ‘aging’ as a whole. It’s risky, and the pay-off is far in the future. Perhaps it will be up to small biotech startups to try to make the big breakthroughs.
If it works, that could make for a lot of grumpy, old (but healthy) folks. And, if the biotech science is settled, perhaps the focus will shift to the economic and political questions. Society would be in for some big shifts. It’s going to be a lot to think about – and makes one wonder, “Who wants to live forever?”