Prolonging Life

September 30, 2011 • Volume 21, Issue 34
Should scientists try to increase the human lifespan?
By Beth Baker

Introduction

José Temprana (AFP/Getty Images/Robert Sullivan)
José Temprana celebrates his new citizenship with a kiss in Miami on June 29, 2007 — at age 105. Born in Cuba, he was a sponge diver and lobster fisherman before he was jailed for 30 years for opposing Fidel Castro. He fled to Florida after his release. (AFP/Getty Images/Robert Sullivan)

The number of elderly Americans is rising sharply. More than 1 million people will be at least 100 years old by 2050 — up from just 50,000 centenarians in 2000. With more and more Americans living longer, policymakers worry that Social Security and Medicare costs will drain money from health and education programs for the young. Meanwhile, researchers are trying to prolong life even more, making old age a time of health and activity, not sickness and frailty. Some envision a future when people routinely live in good health to 100 or longer, aided, perhaps, by drugs that turn on “longevity” genes, newly discovered secrets of long-lived people and even computer chips and tiny robotic devices implanted in humans to help them remain vigorous. But many gerontologists and ethicists argue that the human body is far too complex for such drastic changes and that scientists should focus on improving health care for all Americans, not increasing longevity.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Older Americans and Senior Citizens
Sep. 30, 2011  Prolonging Life
Mar. 15, 2011  The Graying Planet
Oct. 13, 2006  Caring for the Elderly
Feb. 20, 1998  Caring For the Elderly
Aug. 01, 1997  Age Discrimination
Dec. 06, 1991  Retiree Health Benefits
Aug. 19, 1988  The Elderly in an Aging America
Nov. 21, 1986  Home Health Care
Aug. 06, 1982  Housing Options for the Elderly
Nov. 10, 1971  Plight of the Aged
Nov. 06, 1963  Nursing Homes and Medical Care
May 20, 1959  Housing for the Elderly
Sep. 04, 1957  Health of the Aged
Aug. 01, 1949  Older People
Mar. 29, 1938  The Job Problem for Older Workers
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Elderly Health Issues