The future of death is changing. Not far down the bio-genetic
road lies a world where, for a price, you will be able to extend
your life by replacing limbs, internal organs, eyes, even nervous
systems. Beyond that, LifeXtension companies will grow new whole
perfect designer bodies for you ready for the day you want a mind
implant. You walk in old, you walk out new, but with all your
memories intact. Too fantastic? If you can think it, it will happen.
That is the story of scientific development these past two hundred
years. Technically, we are creating a future where some, the very
rich, could live forever. (We are not, for sake of argument talking
about psychological deterioration and brain atrophy over time-
though no doubt through stem cell research brain regeneration
will also accompany this body part revolution).
Fantastic? Yes. Possible? Absolutely. Who will have this? The
rich - at first. Then as demand grows and techniques improve along
with cost reductions, almost anyone could get this. What about
the Third World? No chance.
So why live forever? Whats the point? Does everyone want
to do it? Not right now. There is resistance. I spoke with Helene
age 27. She has long espoused that she intends to die at 40. She
refuses to give up smoking despite the fact that many in her family
have had or even died of cancer. She doesnt want a new lung,
a new head or a new anything. I want to go at 40.
She cant image a world where she coudl find any happiness
at 40 and she is expecting the cigarettes to kill her to save
her the trouble. She is serious.
John Richard is just about to turn 55. He has a young wife and
a boy of nine. He works in the I.T. intelligence industry. He
has suffered a number of health related problems so I asked him,
Would you like to live to 100? Or longer? If I could offer
you new limbs for old, you could live forever.
John was sceptical. He was thinking less about his boy and more
about his pension. Living say another 55 years and most of that
on a state pension would not be attractive. He loathes the idea
of replacement body parts, but if pressed hed go for the
mind implant into a new fresh and most importantly young body.
Of course this technology is the furthest away and none of the
new techniques are going to be available in time to help John.
He paints a scene at the beach where all these people of 125 going
on 30 are showing off their new limbs to each other as they get
tans in St Tropez. Naturally the richest will sport slim muscular
Gucci arms and lithe Nike legs. One can see branding
reaching out to our very skins and body parts and then come the
put-downs Shes so poor all she could get was new thighs
from Marks and Sparks or worse, you arrive with National
Health makeover feet that dont quite fit, shoulders with
stitching coming away at the seams and sub-standard replacement
skin grown in a Romanian factory instead of ICI.
I spoke with Joanna who is 81 already. When asked what shed
like, at first she said she would like to replace everything,
but then immediately relented. Even with a new legs and all those
wrinkles trimmed, she couldnt really think of any reason
to live longer. We are here for our allotted time. We bring
children into the world, we live, we have our memories. If I live
another 20 years wholl pay? I just get a state pension.
Twenty years of getting by - twenty years of more cold winters,
my friends are already dead...Id probably outlive my children.
What is the use of that?
There are people who warm to the idea. Catherine is 52, she has
had a major brush with cancer and had her stomach removed. She
didnt give up. She has already had things replaced. Now
she holds down a good job and wants to carry on, rebuild her life,
find a new lover. She is well disposed to the idea of replacement
body parts, and she doesnt mind if they are cloned as long
as they work and last, because she knows more than anyone, being
in hospital for months on end is no joy.
If I was to have new legs, theyd have to last a lifetime.
You see people having the hip operations all over again and each
time they last less than the last time. Catherine is a prime
target for Lifextension,inc but even so, the price would have
to be right. It is no use spending so much on new limbs
if you cannot afford to live afterwards.
We are all different and whether we like this idea or not, it
is coming. Sadly if you are already 50 plus, chances are you have
missed the boat. Ideally, you order these body parts when you
are born and they grow as you do, so you can replace if things
break, just like cars. After all , if my Seat breaks down, I will
replace the part and it is still a Seat. We are still the same
we ever were with new limbs, just less cranky.
The trouble is the main income earning years are between 22 and
50. How are you going to acquire enough to pay for the body parts
and a lifestyle that will keep you active until 100? How many
careers, jobs, wives, vacations can a person endure? What about
the young? If no one ever retires, how will they ever get a career
going? Or will it all turn ugly, like Logans Run. The young
will start shooting the old in the streets. Hey watch where
youre shooting, I paid $100,000 for that arm. (What
if people get sneaky and start replacing themselves with teenager
bodies so they can live even longer?)
In the future work will be precious, work will be a privilege.
It could be that culture will become the equivalent of factory
work with millions of people turning out crappy novels, and art
and crafts which the other half are forced to buy. (Whoops thats
now). Well beg for real jobs, bashing metal, building cars,
And there is the other thing, if they abolish sickness as well,
what will ever relieve us of boredom? Just because life can be
extended it doesnt mean it will be worth it. In 100 years
it might be, but in 100 years your world changes completely and
even if you could afford to stay, even if you have replaced everything
so much so your dont even recall who you were...you might
not like that new world, at all.
For most of us, living longer with bankrupt pensions, damp housing,
the British weather, it isnt attractive. It may be altogether
morebrutal, more desperate and one may end up in a backstreet
market trying to sell of the new limbs they had grafted on, if
they have any use at all.
When you're young and beautiful you will want to live forever.
The mirror shall reveal, the mirror will tell you when its time
to go. Remember the words of the perfect citizens in that sentient
film Zardoz when the barbarian Sean Connery rides into
a village filled with 200 year old beautiful, healthy but ancient
people. Kill me, kill me first.
© Sam North 2001