In the length of time measured as human lifetime one can expect to see a full range of differing events. It is assumed that during a lifetime a person will experience every possible different emotion. If one is particularly lucky, he will bear witness to, or affect some momentous change in humanity. However is it reasonable to ask what would be experienced by someone who lived two lifetimes? Up until recently the previous question would and could only be rhetorical. There is no answer, because no one has ever lived that long. Of course that was up until now.
At McGill University, nematodes (tiny organisms) have experienced five lifetimes (Kluger). Through complex scientific experiments nematodes and fruit flies have had their lifespans increased not by fractions of life times, but by multiples of lifetimes (Kruger). Mankind is using the discovery of DNA as an opportunity to play G-d by changing the aging process. Man has a natural tendency to play the role of G-d. Man has a an inherent need to affect others, be it through the vises of war, power, manipulation or politics. However man s natural tendency to play G-d has reached it s final manifestation. By attempting to slow down the aging process man is using himself as the ultimate canvas, to play the role of the omnipotent.
Research into the process of aging began in 1961(Rose, Technology Review:64). Since then a great deal of time, money and effort have been appropriated into discovering the causes of aging, it can therefore be inferred that humanity has an almost “personal” interest in aging. Of course the culmination of discovering how we age, is discovering how to stop it. An intrinsic characteristic of Man is His obsession with superficiality. Superficiality is equated with appearance. The appearance of beauty can be equated with youth. Therein lies man s obsession with age, ceasing to age means being eternally beautiful. As usual man s actions are dominated by ego and self-preservation. Within the confines of youth there lies a certain fountain of power. Power which cannot be accessed once one ages. Things like physical and sexual prowess. The time of youth is often refereed to as the “prime of your life”. It is therefore not difficult to understand and conceive of man s motivation to stay young and to wish that the immediate people surrounding him stay young.
If a mathematician wished to create a formula to describe the life of one man he would say that life is equal to a series of interchangeably quantized, experiences and emotions. With the advent of a retarded aging process, that which we know as life changes. While life is composed if those quantized properties there are a finite amount of them, therefore decelerating the aging process has major implications. First and foremost among them is what to do with all that extra time? In 1900 the average life expectancy of a baby born in the United States was 47 years. Conservative estimates place life expectancy of children born today in the united sates at 76, while less conservative estimates place the life expectancy at 100 years. Presently man is unable to cope with this extra time. Many septuagenarians spend days sitting around doing next to nothing. The term “waiting to die” has been applied in reference to such activities, or rather lack thereof. Even while the average life-span has increased, whose to say that the time added is quality time? Another general comment overheard in the population at large was “what s the point of growing old and having to suffer through ulcers, cataracts, hemorrhoids, and cancer. Isn t it better to die young and healthy then to die old, infirm and brittle?” The essential question being proposed is one of quality versus quantity. Is it better to live for a long time with much of that time spent in dialysis, or is it preferable to enjoy a short but “fun” life. Even if the scientists can cure humanity of the ailments of the elders, there still remains the question of how to manage one s time. “We re bored” has often been used as the battle cry of youth, people who haven t even lived two decades. What are people who have lived twelve decades supposed to do? These questions are stuck in the realm of rhetoric. There are no answers to these questions. It is altogether possible that there never will be.
Scientists involved in the dissection of the aging process have made what they believe to be an important discovery (Gebhart,174). Scientists discovered a small area at the tip of the chromosomes that served no apparent purpose (Kluger). Dubbed a telomere, this area of the chromosome wasn t responsible for any physiological traits. What was discerned however was that whenever a cell divides to create two new cells each of the daughter cells has less telomere than the mother cell (Kluger). Once the cell has undergone a maximum number of divisions the telomere was reduced to a stub, exposing genes which initiated proteins that caused the deterioration of the cell (Kluger). The most applicable analogy would be that of a bomb. The telomere acts as the fuse to the bomb. The fuse is lit from the time of birth, and when the telomerefuse runs out the bomb goes off. Only in this case instead of instantaneous death, the victim succumbs to the equivalent of radiation poisoning. The victims condition is terminal from the start and slowly degrades to the point of death . The conclusion is that life is just a case of terminal death. Or is it? Scientists also discovered an enzyme known as telomerase prevents the loss of telomere, essentially stomping the fire out (Rose, Technology Review: 64). There are many substantial and immediate implications raised by this. What are the ethics of immortality? Was humanity meant to be immortal? Are there benefits to being immortal? Are there consequences?
While it seems like quite a neat thing to do immortality would place an incredible strain on our resources. Not only on social actions and mental coping but also on the resources of this planet. There are a limited quantity of resources available for consumption on this planet. As a result of human immortality, the first consequence would be overcrowding. No one ever dies, therefore there s no room to go “out with the old and in with the new”. The next major problem would be a food shortage. With an ever-increasing population and a constant food supply, there wouldn t be enough food to feed everybody. Either the vast majority of the planet would be starving while a few noble class people feasted, or in general people would have to reduce the amount they eat. Which introduces the problem of waste disposal. Not only human and animal defecation but garbage, where would it go?
A common complaint from a number of people, and most teenagers is that there parents place too much pressure on them, and that they re always trying to find out things that are none of there business. Well imagine the pressure placed on someone who has not only his parents, not only his grandparents, but also his great-grandparents, his great-great-grandparents, their parents, and their parents. A person would have an endless supply of ancestors, and would be constantly overseen. These are huge ramifications that would change the way humanity not only acts but also the way humanity perceives itself.
Lastly there is the ethical aspect of increasing humanity s lifespan. Regardless of whether there is or is not a some omnipotent watchperson whom we in our rather limited capacity perceive as G-d there are ethical issues which must be dealt with. Humanity has always perceived itself as more than just the sum of its parts. However that isn t to say that if you change one of the parts humanity will stay the same. There is nothing more immediate than DNA to a human. What right does humanity have to go stumbling around down there. A baby doesn t change its own diapers does it? If humans were meant to live for a certain amount of time who are we to say we should live longer. On the other hand who s to say we shouldn t. Yes the human lifespan has been adjusted in the past, but those were all external stimuli, war, famine, disease and the CIA were all responsible for changing the definition of a lifetime. However adjusting DNA is an internal change. Changing our society and hygiene is light years away from controlling microscopic chemical reactions. Man is referred to as G-d s ultimate creation, the universe his canvas. But what happens when humans steal the canvas and decide to redecorate, would you want to recolor your Picasso? Is there any justification for living that long, does there need to be? These are not easy questions, and there not intended to be, but should scientists prove successful in their endeavors, all of these questions will have to be resolved. How can certain establishments which frown on cosmetic plastic surgery frown on the reorganization of protein strands? There is no doubt that the people in charge of those organizations would take advantage of these technologies (Rose, Melatonin,: 6). How are the two things different? There are no possible answers to these questions for now they must remain rhetorical.
It is increasingly obvious that the repercussions of these technologies stretch across the board. As always the horizon of the future stretches before us, only revealing a glimpse of that which is to come. The resounding questions that will soon confront us can only be concluded with the passage of time, something apparently humanity will have a lot of.