Live Long, and Prosper?

Free Exchange points us to this interesting Washington Post interview that talks with biologist Abrey de Grey (a name that sounds like it should belong to a character in the next installment of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ) about the possibility of radical life extension. The anonymous FE blogger writes:

De Grey has devised a possible therapy for aging that would extend lifespans for centuries. I find the thought cheering and consider longer lives an unalloyed good. But it seems almost no one agrees.

Straight up immortality does seem like it could be something of a bore, but I’ll admit to being vexed by opposition to extending life by a few hundred years. I know that many objections are religiously motived, but these don’t make much sense to me either.

Just two centuries ago, average lifespan in West was less than 40. In other places it was lower. These days, life expectancy worldwide is about 77. This is due in large part to advances in medical science. Is anyone outside of a few small sects honestly bothered by the way medicine and technology have gradually extended of lifespans over the last few hundred years? I don’t see many hands raised. Why, then, should anyone worry about doubling or tripling lifespans again?

One of the biggest political debates in the country right now is over health care and health insurance. Read books like Jonathan Cohn’s Sick and you’ll be inundated with stories purporting to show situations in which people died for lack of care. The underlying reasoning here — reasoning that I suspect is shared by the majority of the population — is that no one should die when the technology exists to keep them alive. So why does technology-driven radical life extension spook so many people? I’m honestly baffled by this, and have yet to read anything that amounts to much more than someone’s account of having a vague moral instinct that living that long would be a perversion of human existence.

On the other hand, I find Slate’s recent piece on great books you haven’t read to be argument enough for my position. Give me a couple hundred extra years and I might actually get through all those classics.