Extending the lifespan: problems and questions

Robert Bradbury rbradbur at hardy.u.washington.edu
Fri Apr 17 06:50:49 EST 1992

The aging process results in an exponential increase in death rates.
(Harman, 1991).  This effectively means that making major (>60%)
reductions in death due to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes will
at most only increase the expected life span to 85 (Olshansky et al, 1990).
Current medical practices end up compressing diseases into the last few
years of life in a generally fruitless but expensive effort (Fries, 1988).

Given these premises one can only conclude that effort by doctors and
researchers into curing the "diseases of aging" is very misdirected.  
Thus one should argue that much of the $3+ billion spent on heart
disease and cancer research by NIH should instead be redirected into
research in retarding the rate of aging (and reducing the overall
disease rate), something which should result in the extension of

  1) Are we not targeting the extension of lifespan because it would
     blow the social security system out of the water and bankrupt the
  2) When I propose that we should be striving to live to 150, many
     people react quite negatively.  Is this because they don't understand
     that it would involve slowing the aging rate or because they fear
     overpopulation or is something else at work?

Gori et al in 1978 predicted by macroeconomic modeling that preventing
disease and increasing the lifespan would have very negative impacts on
the economy.  Predicted GNP growth rates were:
    (1980: 0.8, 1985: 1.4, 1990: 0.5, 1995: -4.7).
We have had some of the life-span extension he postulated (probably more
from advances in medical technology than prevention) but have not suffered
huge economic setbacks.  In contrast, Kotlikoff in 1981 predicted by some 
equation juggling that extending the lifespan would be benificial if some
changes were made in social security policies.

  3) Why haven't their been more economic studies done on what the
     impact of lifespan extension would be on the economy and what
     ideas do people have about the impacts?
It is interesting to note that the NCI has stopped pushing congress
for smoking reduction programs on the basis of saving the government
money.  (People dying of small-cell lung carcinoma die quickly at
a relatively young age saving both social security payments and health
care costs of people dying at an older age with diseases like osteoporosis
and Alzeheimer's.)

   4) Are there ways to restructure social care systems in America so
      government has an interest in promoting health, disease prevention
      and longevity?

Robert Bradbury

(1) PNAS, 1991, 88(12):5360-3, D Harman;
     The aging process: major risk factor for disease and death
(3) Science, 1990, 250:634-670, SJ Olshansky, BA Carnes, C Cassel;
     In Search of Methuselah: Estimating the Upper Limits to Human Longevity
(3) Perspectives Biol. Medicine, 1988, 31:407-23, JF Fries; Aging, illness,
     and health policy, implications of the compression of morbidity.
(4) Science, 1978, 200:1124-1130, GB Gori, BJ Richter
     Macroeconomics of Disease Prevention in the United States
(5) Aging: Biology and Behavior, Academic Press, 1981 pp 97-114
     LJ Kotlikoff: Some Economic Implications of Life-Span Extension

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