Article: Activism For Healthy Life Extension

Reason reason at longevitymeme.org
Fri Dec 5 07:42:15 EST 2003


The latest article from the Longevity Meme, which might be of interest
to readers here:

http://www.longevitymeme.org/articles/viewarticle.cfm?page=1&article_id=16

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Activism for Healthy Life Extension  

by Reason and Devon Fowler   
 
150,000 people died today, from age-related conditions that we should
be working harder to cure. I'm sick of the way in which society
ignores this horrid toll. Each life is precious: an individual,
complex human being; wishes, desires, knowledge, experience...all
gone, destroyed, 150,000 times over every day. The apathy with which
we greet this ongoing holocaust is shocking. Think about that for a
moment; spend a little time thinking about you, your family and your
friends suffering and dying because we cannot rouse ourselves to spend
the necessary funds on anti-aging medical research. Don't push it out
of your mind - get angry instead! A longer life and lasting, excellent
health are rights worth fighting for, and this essay is a little
meditation on what you should be doing in order to obtain both of
these things.

In the course of my life to date, I have met a good number of the
unfocused and apathetic people in the world. They drift with the
currents, follow the distractions of the moment, and are afraid or
unable to take a real stand on issues. Lives are affected and changed,
often for the worse, because people didn't stand up to make a
difference when they had the chance. They certainly don't want to
think about the falling of the ax, 150,000 times each day. They hide
from this unpleasant, ugly reality. It's easy to take life too lightly
- after all, the ability to kick back, joke and procrastinate in the
face of adversity is a form of defense against stress - but people let
real, serious issues pass by without challenge: issues such as working
to fight the ravages of aging and increase healthy life span. This
problem can also be seen as a form of collective apathy and lack of
focus in the media and society at large. Too many chances to make a
difference, to fund serious research into aging and extending the
healthy human lifespan, are let slip by, year after year.

Don't be one of these people! It doesn't matter who you are or what
your background is, there are ways in which you can make a difference
to your own healthy lifespan and the pace of medical research. It is a
truism that you have to work for what you want in this life, as
individuals or a society. Nothing is free and no goal is reached
without corresponding effort, but by working together we humans can
build great, lasting and ingenious monuments. Widespread activism and
advocacy - the small contributions of countless individuals - have
always been a vital component of human progress. They continue to be
so today, especially in enabling the advance of medical science.

Funding for the many different fields of medical research ebbs and
flows with public opinion, media exposure and the work of dedicated
activists. Persistent publicity for a cause - such as fighting AIDS,
defeating heart disease, funding cancer research and now healthy life
extension - directly influences the money and time devoted to
research. Cancer research received billions of dollars in funding
precisely because public and media opinion loudly and overwhelming
favored the search for a cure. It takes hard work to frame, place and
keep a medical issue front and center in the mainstream of present day
culture, but it unlocks purses far and wide. Venture capital,
charitable, philanthropic, corporate, and government organizations all
answer the popular call to fund medical research. Each group has their
own reasons for doing so, but in each case, the call must be strident
and widespread. If a need is shouted loudly enough, funding will be
directed to answer that need.

Widespread demand for each new step of medical progress - however
laudable or obvious it might be - doesn't spontaneously appear from
nowhere, of course. As noted earlier, most individuals (and society as
a whole) will let the most serious and pressing medical issues and
opportunities pass them by. Support for medical research must be
cultivated through activism, education and raising awareness: it is
the advocates and public speakers who start the wheels of progress
turning and help to overturn roadblocks as they emerge.

Bearing all this in mind, I can't help but feel that fundamental
priorities are all mixed up for the bulk of humanity. We worship
celebrities, money and sports. We eat unhealthy fast food and indulge
in simple, pointless, trivial things that divert us from vital issues.
Important matters such as ensuring greater quality and length of life
fall to the wayside in the face of a mountain of details and
distractions. For me at least, working towards a longer, better,
healthier life is far more important determining who looked best at
the Oscars, and far more rewarding than obsessing over sports scores.

In my eyes, healthy life extension is worth fighting for. I work to
help make far longer, far healthier lives a reality. I may not be a
scientist, but through writing I can convince people to feel as
passionately as I do about this mission. In these early days, I can
make a big difference by educating people about the possibilities and
potentials of medical research, and of the need to support advances in
real anti-aging medicine. I can help to kick-start and organize
serious, large-scale activism, education and fundraising for
life-extending medical research. It would make me happy if I lived in
good health to 150 or more, but I've pledged not to become apathetic
even if it proves to be impossible: there are too few years in life
right now - and too great a promise in the latest medical research -
to quit or lapse into despondency.

There are many others who feel the same way as I do. Despite
widespread apathy, disinterest and ignorance of science in our
society, there has been a real growth in size and sophistication of
healthy life extension communities in the past few years. The Life
Extension Foundation, the Immortality Institute and the Longevity Meme
are but a few of these. We can thank the Internet, reports of new
breakthroughs in medicine, and the actions of a core of motivated
early leaders for this blossoming. Interest is growing as the first
inklings and discussions of the future of life-extending medicine
appear in the mainstream media. As a group united in our vision for a
better future, we have come to the point of being able to say: "We
want to live healthily for longer. We want real, meaningful healthy
life extension therapies. What shall we do to make it all happen?"

This is the key question! 

Healthy life extension, aging and anti-aging research is currently
seriously under-funded in comparison to, say, cancer, heart disease or
AIDS research. Progress is slow, since progress depends on funds. Slow
progress means little media attention and public awareness, no matter
how serious the cause, which in turn tends to mean little further
funding will be available. It's a vicious, self-perpetuating circle.
As of 2003, no healthy life extension or anti-aging medicine
fundraising groups exist that are comparable in size, renown and
success to the large cancer research non-profits. When you stop to
think about it, this is a very strange state of affairs: everyone
ages, and almost everyone is prepared to pay money to slow or halt the
detrimental effects of aging. Witness the success of vendors, mystics
and conmen claiming to supply "anti-aging" products of all sorts! Why
is it that - with a billion dollar industry showing that people will
pay for any old junk marketed as "anti-aging" - research on real
anti-aging science is languishing?

One answer is that the wider public really doesn't understand the
possibilities that could be opened up by well funded, near future
medical research. Most people simply don't believe that aging can be
beaten, and beaten soon. They have lived with the holocaust, 150,000
deaths every day, for so long that it is accepted and hidden as an
immutable part of reality. Nothing could be further from the truth of
course: aging is a medical condition, and as such is open to research,
treatment, prevention, and, ultimately, a cure. Public confusion and
ignorance isn't an insurmountable barrier - just recall what happened
during the 80s for AIDS research. AIDS activists and educators at the
time were well aware of the benefits future research could bring. They
worked long and hard, and raised a great noise to the heavens. Lo and
behold, the flow of money to AIDS research increased dramatically over
the years. Today, AIDS in Western countries is almost a manageable,
chronic condition rather than a death sentence. Tremendous medical
advances took place across a span of only 20 years, a progression from
unknown, untreatable deadly disease to vaccine trials and effective
medications. When political and economic barriers are overcome, AIDS
patients elsewhere in the world will enjoy the same benefits.

This same sequence of events could - and indeed should - happen for
aging and its attendant life-threatening degenerative conditions. We
need to overcome apathy and distractions, reorder our priorities,
organize, speak to the media, educate the public and make ourselves
heard! Medical advocacy is nothing new or revolutionary, and we have
many past examples and a great deal of experience to draw upon. The
strategies of fundraising and education for charitable causes are well
known and well understood by the public - we will be following a
well-trodden path while help researchers find a cure for aging.

Working hard for a cause can be difficult, especially in the medical
field when tangible results can take years or decades to arrive. But I
would argue that healthy life is priceless, and it is worth
passionately fighting for every extra day we can get. I want to live
in good health for as long as I possibly can, and I will stay as
passionate and proactive as I can about healthy longevity no matter
what the end result may be for me personally. Even if I eventually die
from accident or disease, working for healthy life extension is still
well worth it. I will have helped to gain additional time for each and
every one of us, a gift beyond value.

You can help too. Keep reading. 

It's worth taking a moment to think about how medicine gets better.
Scientific progress is a wonderful thing; the hard work of advocacy,
education and research, building the technology to make life longer,
healthier and better. Progress means that we live in modern houses
rather than crude huts. Progress means that we live in comfort rather
than hardship. We must never forget that the vast majority of human
beings who ever lived slaved just to stay alive for a few short
decades, living amidst filth, ignorance, suffering and disease.

We are lucky, and we owe our longer, healthier lives to scientific and
medical progress. Many people do forget the lessons of the past,
however. They discount and belittle the tremendous benefits that
medical science has brought to humanity. In fear of change, and at any
cost, they would shackle the engine of progress and halt the advance
of science. These people - luddites, conservatives, greens,
bioethicists and others - have existed throughout history, but have
always been defeated. A good thing too! Unfortunately, defeat often
seems to mean that the next generation will live better, longer lives
while fighting hard to prevent their children from enjoying the fruits
of further advances.

Today, humanity stands on the brink of real, meaningful anti-aging
medicine. Scientists talk of 200-year life spans, of defeating cancer,
heart disease and Alzheimer's. Far longer, far healthier lives are
possible. Readily available therapies to repair and prevent the
cellular damage of aging could be twenty years away with the right
funding and research choices. Yet, people in positions of influence
and power - President Bush, Leon Kass of the President's Council for
Bioethics and Francis Fukuyama, to name but a few - devote their time
to blocking research and speaking out openly against extended health
and life. We cannot dismiss these efforts. While Leon Kass is helping
(in his own backwards way) to raise awareness of the possibilities of
healthy life extension, he and his politician cronies have
demonstrated a real ability to damage and hold back medical research.
Kass and other bioethicists offer the rubber stamp justification for
legislation - under debate in 2003 - that would shut down or
criminalize vast swathes of anti-aging research in the US. Politicians
in France, Germany and other EU nations have already done just this:
it's not as though we can pretend that it can't happen elsewhere.

This isn't an isolated disagreement over research, nor is it merely a
matter of distaste in some quarters for advances in medicine and
healthy life extension. These political battles are part of a bigger
war against change and scientific progress. We see it in the
globalization debate and arguments over genetically modified foods,
stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. Politicians and
influential, well-funded factions are working to stop or even turn
back the clock of health and progress for everyone. While they could
live as they choose in their own lives, they should have no right to
force their views - and shorter, less healthy lives - on the world.
Alas, they continue to try.

For my part, I say that we humans have spent more than enough time
being self-destructive and afraid of change, striving to tear down
scientific and medical advancement. Our history - thousands of years
of terrible wars, horrible plagues, short and brutish lives - should
have us seeking to be better than that. Tens of thousands die today,
and every day, for want of cures that might already exist if there
were less opposition and more resources devoted to extending the
healthy human lifespan. For the sake of the dying, for our own sake,
we simply cannot afford to lose these battles over medical research.
Cures for cancer, regenerative medicine for nerve damage, working
anti-aging medicine, and all the other possible medical miracles in
the near future are by no means a done deal. Human science is capable
of achieving so much that has simply not been done. We could have
built permanent bases on the Moon, visited Mars, irrigated the Sahara,
reforested the Americas and catalogued all life on the deepest ocean
floor over the course of the last four decades. We have not. Likewise,
there is no guarantee that advances in medicine will bring healthy
life extension rapidly enough to help those of us reading this now.

This is why we must stand up and support the future that we believe
in: more funding, more medical research, better medicine and far
healthier, far longer lives. Too many people today, like Leon Kass,
seem to worship death, but I know that each human being also possesses
a strong instinct for life. Between public apathy and political
opposition, we can't afford to look at healthy life extension as
simply a cool health trend, or as hobby activism. It is a necessity,
and the more I learn about it the more I feel that this is true.
Healthy life extension encompasses everything we do as individuals;
without health and life, we cannot enjoy any of the things we value -
friends, occupations, interests, and so much more.

If you feel lazy, apathetic or distracted about the future of your
health and longevity, snap out of it! Live runs out on us all too
quickly. Healthy lifespan is shorter still, but you, I and everyone
else can devote a little time to enabling longer, healthier lives.
Activism for medical progress can have real results in these days of
rapidly advancing science. So do something to support this cause! Read
the Longevity Meme; join the Immortality Institute; follow the latest
news; send a supportive message to an advocate or researcher; write
angry letters to anti-research politicians; post to healthy life
extension forums online; sign up for the Life Extension Foundation;
donate to the Methuselah Mouse research prize. Perhaps most
importantly, talk to your friends and convince them to help you.

Active advocacy groups don't exist in a vacuum: they are the sharp
edge of a larger supporting community. The Longevity Meme, the Life
Extension Foundation, A4M, the Immortality Institute, the CR Society
and other diverse healthy life extension organizations, commentators,
and online communities didn't spring into existence from nothing. They
interact with and are encouraged and supported by many overlapping
communities interested in healthy life extension. Every extra person
who contributes directly increases all our chances of living a much
longer, healthier life. Everyone can help, and it doesn't take much
effort. Every wall is built one brick at a time. Have you mentioned
healthy life extension to your friends today? Show the Longevity Meme
to a neighbor, introduce someone to the Immortality Institute, or
mention the Life Extension Foundation at the office. Post Longevity
Meme newsletters to bulletin boards and online groups. Go ahead!
You'll be helping people and helping yourself.

There is no question as to the importance of healthy life extension -
it may not be a matter of life and death for you today, right now, but
it is for many people. One day, all too soon, you will one of them.
Personally, I've grown sick of the distractions. I want more
individuals to look at this problem head on and say: "Too many people
suffer and die in this country, let alone the world. I'm angry because
people who should be alive today are dead. Aging and death are an
ongoing tragedy, a horror that we must fight." I want to see this said
on CNN and the BBC, a loud acknowledgement of this unpleasant reality
that we can - indeed, must - work to change.

The huge increase in AIDS research funding in the 80s and 90s is the
crowning victory of this sort of grassroots activism and organization.
In comparatively few years, AIDS moved from obscure disease to the
center of media attention. The floodgates of research funding opened
and AIDS progressed from death sentence to manageable condition for
those with access to treatment. We can repeat these same successes in
the fight against aging! In short, healthy life extension is not a
niche or an oddity anymore, and hasn't been for a while. Fighting
aging - fighting to stop the horrid ongoing toll of suffering and
death - can produce real results in your lifetime. So let's stop
avoiding the subject! If I can do it, so can you: stand up and take
part in ensuring your future is long and healthy. Join the healthy
life extension community and talk to your friends about this serious
issue. Unending health and an unlimited, rosy future could be
ahead...all it would take is for everyone to join in and help make it
happen.

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Copyright C 2003 Reason and Devon Fowler. Based on a piece by Devon
Fowler that appeared originally at Transhumanity and the Immortality
Institute.





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