Illustration by Chris Van Es

Should We Live to 1,000?

Peter Singer
Dec. 10, 2012

Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, is one of the world’s most prominent ethicists. He is the author of Practical Ethics and Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals.

PRINCETON – On which problems should we focus research in medicine and the biological sciences? There is a strong argument for tackling the diseases that kill the most people –diseases like malaria, measles, and diarrhea, which kill millions in developing countries, but very few in the developed world.

Developed countries, however, devote most of their research funds to the diseases from which their citizens suffer, and that seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Given that constraint, which medical breakthrough would do the most to improve our lives?

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphIf your first thought is “a cure for cancer” or “a cure for heart disease,” think again. Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer of SENS Foundation and the world’s most prominent advocate of anti-aging research, argues that it makes no sense to spend the vast majority of our medical resources on trying to combat the diseases of aging without tackling aging itself. If we cure one of these diseases, those who would have died from it can expect to succumb to another in a few years. The benefit is therefore modest.

In developed countries, aging is the ultimate cause of 90% of all human deaths; thus, treating aging is a form of preventive medicine for all of the diseases of old age. Moreover, even before aging leads to our death, it reduces our capacity to enjoy our own lives and to contribute positively to the lives of others. So, instead of targeting specific diseases that are much more likely to occur when people have reached a certain age, wouldn’t a better strategy be to attempt to forestall or repair the damage done to our bodies by the aging process?

Read more: Should We Live to 1,000? by Peter Singer – Project Syndicate.