Peril and Promise of a Longer Life (Fall 2013 Trust Magazine)

Source Organization: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Author: Michael Remez

11/14/2013 - The concept of old age is changing. Americans today routinely live longer than did previous generations, and some futurists predict that medical advances eventually could allow people to remain healthy and productive to age 120 or more.

But many Americans see peril as well as promise in such possibilities, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

Fifty-six percent say they personally would not want medical treatments that slow aging and allow people to live “to at least 120 years”; 38 percent say they would. Still, 68 percent say other people would want medical treatments that slow their aging; 27 percent say most would not.

Asked about the consequences for society if new treatments could slow the aging process and allow people to live longer, 51 percent say that would be bad for society; 41 percent say it would be good.

Cary Funk, a senior researcher with Pew’s religion and public life project, says the survey grew out of discussions with religious leaders, bioethicists, and others about the morality of biomedical advances—for the first time seen as in the realm of the possible—that could lead to significant extensions of life.
How long do Americans want to live? Sixty-nine percent cite an age between 79 and 100. The median ideal life span is 90 years, about 11 years longer than the current average U.S. life expectancy, which is 78.7 years.

On balance, the public tends to view medical advances that prolong life as generally good—63 percent of respondents—rather than as interfering with the natural cycle of life—32 percent.

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