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The dark side of the Fountain of Youth

Alex Miller

Advancements in medical science, I hear, are pushing the age we can expect to reach in our autumn years. In particular, the unraveling of humans’ genetic code is supposedly going to clear the way for a variety of new medicines and medical techniques that’ll have us First Worlders hanging around until we wear out our navy blazers and have shrunk to the size of gerbils.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Humans, of course, are notoriously tenacious when it comes to hanging onto life. Despite polls showing the majority of folks believe in some sort of afterlife, most of us will do just about anything to avoid moving onto that next level. Crappy though life on Earth can be at times, there must be enough good stuff compelling us to prolong our stay as long as possible. After all, who can be sure there’ll be Cherry Garcia in Heaven?

I don’t envy the personal financial planners who try to help people map out their finances for retirement. How do you tell an Eagle County guy making $25,000 a year that, to retire comfortably, he’ll have to work until he’s 113? Longevity’s one thing, but who wants to spend 40 years as a greeter at Wal-Mart? Think, too, about the Social Security system in our country already in dire straits. How are we, as a country, supposed to finance this geriatric renaissance? The pharmaceutical companies manufacturing these wonder drugs to prolong our lives should have to donate 90 percent of their profits to a mass retirement fund.

Another thing to consider is the impact more people will have on the planet’s resources. With six billion people already roaming the earth, increased longevity is only going to keep driving that number up. A century from now, instead of worrying about how to keep people alive, we may be trying to arrive at ways to bump them off.

“Excuse me, Mr. Perkins, I’m from the U.S. Population Project, and I see here that you’re 147.”

“That’s correct, yes.”

“You’ve been retired for 53 years and have not, in any discernible way, contributed one lick to society but, rather, depend on government handouts to prolong your meaningless existence.”

“Uh, yup. Mostly I just sit here with my virtual reality machine and golf.”

Our population guy may then go on to attempt convincing Mr. Perkins that his time may well be nigh, and that he’d be doing everyone a favor if he stopped taking his medication and went quietly to his grave. Being a tenaciously life-clinging human, however, Mr. Perkins won’t like that. By whose judgment is his life “meaningless,” anyway? Who’s to say playing computer golf is any more or less meaningful than punching a time clock, or sitting in jail, or playing slot machines all day long?

I can see the day when arguments over abortion, capital punishment and school prayer are replaced with protracted national debates over how long people should live and what role the government should have in regulating that. Constitutionally, we have the right to “pursue happiness,” and if happiness to us means watching re-runs of “Deal or No Deal” until we’re 167, why, who can argue with that?

The latest poll shows 92 percent of Americans believe in some kind of god and/or afterlife. Even so, I’d guess 95 percent of the population would, given the choice, continue to live on this earth forever. So … see you at the retirement community!

Alex Miller is responsible for the editorial oversight of the Vail Daily, Eagle Valley Enterprise and Vail Trail. He can be reached at (970) 748-2920, or editor@vaildaily.com.


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