What If We Could Live To 120?

While I was out to dinner at a Thai-Italian restaurant in Wisconsin last week, our table discussion embarked on the topic of aging, and whether or not the advancements in health-science and technology industries could increase our life expectancy to 120 years of age in the future, i.e. help us live longer.

Dinner in Sicily with Brianna, Austin, and Arthur in June 2013 Dinner in Sicily with Brianna, Austin, and Arthur in June 2013

My table company? I was sitting with a neonatologist (pediatrician), a business owner (manufacturer of service products in various markets to include pharmaceutical, higher-education, government, biotech, and agriculture), my teenage-daughter, and 12-year-old son. Our conversation proved interesting.

From the neonatologist and business owner perspective, their educated consensus was yes, given the advancements and current knowledge in health, science, and biotechnology industries, we are indeed on the brink of longer lifespans, and living to 120-years-of-age seemed implausible.

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So, what did my 12-year-old ask when he was told he could possibly live to 120 in his lifetime? Pause. Reflect. “Would I Want To?” Good question.

My Son, Austin, and I My Son Austin, and I

I typically explore the confines of thought-provoking topics like increased lifespan with overarching theory, proportions, applications, and details, along with the emotional, psychological, philosophical, and legal aspects of the equation. Questions come naturally to me, decisions are intuitive. Given the gamut of life experience, expertise, and youth at our table, we definitely had a fun, relevant discussion.

What questions did we throw on the table?

I asked both of my kids, “If science can push life expectancy to 120 years of age in the future, from our current, average lifespan of 77 years in the United States, do you think we need to extend the period of time a child would be considered a child?”

In the United States, for example, if a person can legally get a driving permit at 15, a license at 16, vote at 18, and drink their first beer at 21, should the “legal age-of-acceptance” on driving, voting, and drinking be upped proportionately…if we are living longer? Where 21 becomes the voting age, and 24 the drinking age? On the flip side, should we then also increase the age in which a child can be tried as an adult for misdemeanor crimes?

In other words, if we can extend our lifespan physically, what does that mean for our beginning years, our middle years, or our ending years? Do we extend childhood along with adulthood, and senior-hood, too?

Where does “senior” fall in line? Do we extend retirement age, hence the right to claim Social Security, to 80 or 90? And does that mean the proverbial mid-life crisis gets drawn out?

What types of psychological, emotional ramifications do we ingest if we live longer? It could be marvelous, like spending more time with family, loved ones, and our voice of wisdom, or it could be harsh, like prolonged illness, incurable disease, or manmade suffering.

Me and My Daughter, Brianna Me and My Daughter, Brianna

More questions:

Are you, personally, up for a longer life? Are we, society, up for it? Would each one of us want to live that long, or would it depend on the quality of our individual life and those around us (society)? Is it possible you can begin with a poor quality of life (economic hardship, disease), and end with an awesome quality of life (economic success, cures discovered) just by having the opportunity to live longer? Is science and medicine that advanced to turn it around incurable diseases in our lifetime?

What if someone was born with an awesome quality of life to begin (economic normalcy, educated, healthy, loved ones close) and then have a not-so-awesome quality of life (lose a job, do a dumb thing that gets you in trouble, be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or become an addict and therefore unhealthy), and therefore not want to live to 120? Wait, I suppose that’s normal and has nothing to do with age, or living longer. Naturally life has its ups and downs.

Or, maybe none of this matters because that’s what lawyers would take care of, and that’s what laws are made for, it gives people a way to make money, while setting new paradigms and legal limits for a society with a longer lifespan. Ah, what if currency changed? But I digress.

If we look back 100 years or so getting married at 14 was legit. Today a typical 14-year-old is getting through high-school, planning for college, starting a business, or thumbing through Instagram.

In Ancient Rome, it was very common for girls to marry and have children shortly after the onset of puberty. Roman law required brides to be at least 12 years old. Wiki

If we can gleam 120 years of age, can science also increase the fertility and reproductive age in women, whereby pregnancy at 50 is commonplace? Or would designer babies become more commonplace, and what are social ramifications of that?

Extend life, delay retirement, increase reproduction cycles, extend childhood and then, would we be happier?

Do you think everyone will have an opportunity to live until 120 regardless of economics? Would you want to? Do you think that we will be able to biologically reset the reproductive cycle, add years naturally?

What do I think? I’m not convinced that living longer is the key to happiness, nor always desirable, but if we can extend the average life expectancy, I think that we should give more grace to growing up. It seems to me that if we are able to shift the pendulum of life extension 40 years one way—from 80-120—then we should consider shifting the age of childhood, too. Why not still be a kid at 30?