It seems that at least every other week medical companies find new ways to make us live longer. This might seem great in the short term, but what about the long term? Yes, it would be nice if we could all live to be over a hundred years old, but is that really a good thing? Overpopulation is already a big issue, allowing more people to live longer will compound it. What about the quality of life of a person who is over a hundred, is it worth living that long?
The number of people the world can sustain is based on several factors. Many estimates place the carrying capacity of the Earth at around ten billion. As of 2009, the world’s population was around 6.775 billion. That means that about 3.225 billion more people can can be accommodated without creating new issues. Some problems which will surface if we hit the carrying capacity will be shortages of food, fresh water, and fuel. Why should we be trying to lengthen people’s lives when this will just cause problems down the road? Is geriatric medical research just going to throw us under the bus when we hit the world’s carrying capacity?
Being one hundred sounds like a good goal for everyone, but is it really? As you get older, your brain function decreases, your vision decreases, your heart and bones get weaker, and various other issues arise. Who would ever want to live like that? While yes, medical research might find a cure for the infirmities associated with aging, they have not been found yet.
What about keeping people alive when they are in a comatose state from which they will likely never return? Medical research has developed technology to keep anyone who cannot do anything on their own alive for decades. If the only sign of life is active brainwaves and the doctors do not think the person has a chance of recovering, why should they not be unplugged from their machines? Yes, there are Do Not Resuscitate orders, but no one really thinks they will need them until they are already lifeless in a hospital bed. I think that if a person who has been kept alive by machines and has been that way for a year with no chance of recovery, should be taken off life support, for the good of the world and for their own good.
Enough talking about lengthening life, what about creating it? It might seem a bit cruel to say this, but China was right to enact its One Child policy. This policy was so successful it prevented 250 million births! While I don’t think it is fair and the plan was poorly implemented, it was on the right track. One thing I would like to change about it is the number of children allowed. Yes, one child would be the best solution, but it is not practical. Instead, I think families should be allowed to have two children and allowed to have another child three or four years after they hit their second child.
I strongly believe that aging is an important issue but I in no way think we should give the elderly the cold shoulder. Although abandoning the elderly will quickly solve the issue, it is not a civilized solution. The more I think about it, the more I feel there is no solution in sight. We could end medical research, but that would just be one step back in the evolutionary cycle. Another non-solution is not treating people who are elderly; but that’s clearly unethical. The one solution that might be is removing the life support of people who have been in a comatose state for more than a year and who have no chance of surviving without the machines. But then again, that might not be taken well in some circles.
No matter what though, first we have to admit that allowing people to live for such a long time could be a problem. We need to address these questions and try to find a way to solve the overpopulation issue in a way that will benefit us and the world, even if we do have to make some sacrifices.