Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Curse of the Cure

There are some ironies in life. After writing about my mother's death to cancer last night, I read in today's paper that no one need die from cancer by the year 2015.

So, what will we die from? What will we do? Will we live longer in order to sit around in an ever-increasingly vegetative state? Will they build more and more nursing homes?

There are already predictions that, due to expanding longevity, we will soon have to work until we are 75. Is that what we all want to live longer for? To work? To prolong Adam's curse?

There's something wrong with all of this. While nobody that I know is eager to contract cancer and to die from it, I also don't know too many people who want to live forever in increasingly-decrepitizing bodies and minds.

Cuppa bought a rather fine winter coat several years ago, at a time when she was also enduring her own cancer scare. She had dreamt about having this coat for years and was absolutely thrilled to flounce about in it. I remember her trying it on one day and saying, "I hope I get to enjoy wearing this for a long time."

In one of my more lucid moments, I replied something like this: "I hope that you enjoy it for as long as you are here to wear it." In other words live in the moment, revel in each day, for I believe that it's the quality and not the duration of our days that matters most.

I daresay there are none of us who are anxious to bring closer in time our ultimate date with destiny. Of course, we're not. We want to live as long as we are able to derive some pleasure, joy, and satisfaction from our lives. On the other hand, I don't think too many of us are terribly anxious to tack ten to thirty years onto the end of our days when we are frail, feeble, and, quite likely, mentally diminished.

If medical science were able to make us feel at eighty like we did at forty, then I would reconsider. But it won't happen that way, and I see this as more curse than blessing right now. How will it greatly benefit me to be rescued from cancer when I am seventy to eighty years old in an otherwise aged mind and body?

Because I am thinking along certain lines here, I don't want to leave a wrong impression. I think that it would wonderful to cure cancer in kids and in young, productive, and otherwise flourishing adults. But I fear the implications at the other end. Who wants to live forever anyway — in bodies and minds that are otherwise aging and in a society that is already ill-prepared to cope with the old?

Meanwhile, may you live each day of your life.



Reason said...

Of course life extension technologies will extend healthy life span. The Tithonus Error, as you present it above, is remarkable common given how little effort is required to find one of the many, many good debunkings. See for example:

Anvilcloud said...

Hmmm ... so I am supposed to read a five page scientific article before I post my thoughts on a newspaper article? Really?

So anyway, if I read the article correctly, eliminating diseases like cancer will only add about another nine years to our longevity. Seems to me, whenI look around, it could be argued that many people are already living nine years too long. I know old people who are totally miserable in their situations.