Last week, the United States Food and Drug Administration ordered the Google-backed genetic testing company 23andMe to stop selling its home testing kits, arguing that the possibility of false positive readings for potentially fatal or debilitating conditions could prompt people to take unnecessary and potentially fatal medical action. The FDA should now work quickly to develop standards so that 23andMe and companies like it can get back to their vital businesses of working to extend the human life span.
Looking at the challenges facing us, you’d be forgiven for thinking that long lives are a problem. Humans face food shortages, the effects of climate change, and potential overcrowding on a global scale, as well as developed world retirement and healthcare systems that are ill-equipped to serve the needs of too many Methuselahs. But these problems might be more the result of short-term thinking rather than long-lived lives. The economist John Maynard Keynes once remarked, “In the long run, we are all dead.” We may have taken that too much to heart.
Meanwhile, powerful forces are working on a cure for aging that could result in the radical extension of human life so that people can live at least to the outlier age of 120, if not beyond. Google, with clout and cash to burn, has funded and nurtured numerous projects meant to extend the human life span, perhaps indefinitely. Google co-founder Larry Page views death as a problem to be solved. Futurist and computer scientist Ray Kurzweil serves as an adviser to Calico, a Google project meant to cure aging, as if it were a disease rather than a fact of life.
It is time for the U.S. government, both as a regulator and supporter of life sciences research, to start making policy as if death were a solvable problem. Problems like global warming, with effects measured over centuries, might mean more to today’s policymakers if they knew they were going to personally face the consequences. The longer people expect to live, the more abstract concepts become practical concerns.
Economist Lester Carl Thurow, former dean of the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology compared the history of humanity on earth to an around-the-world plane trip, “Do I care what happens a thousand years from now? Do I care when man gets off the airplane? And I think basically I came to the conclusion that I don’t care whether man is on the airplane for another eight feet or if man is on the airplane for another three times around the Earth.”