Is There Really a Limit to the Human Lifespan?


For generations, human beings have wanted to live forever. The search for immortality drove explorers such as Ponce de Leon to seek the Fountain of Youth. Villains and heroes alike have sought to preserve themselves for centuries. Modern medical technology has brought human beings closer to immortality than ever before. Is there a limit to how far humanity can go? Can they ever live forever?

How to Be Immortal

Research conducted in 2016 points to a life expectancy ceiling of around 115 years old. Those who gathered data insist that the idea of an ever-increasing life expectancy is not sustainable. According to the trends they recognized, scientists saw consistent improvements in survival for humans into the 20th century. These tapered off in the 1990s and have stayed largely static ever since. Despite that evidence, new studies suggest that the arbitrary age ceiling holds no meaning. Experts agree that human beings can live much longer in the future.

Jeanne Calment, born in France, was 122 years old when she died in 1997. The world was a vastly different place when she came into the world. War, disease, and lower quality living conditions abounded. Miraculously, many people born then have gone on to live over a century. Now, with improved qualities of life and modern medical technology, researchers say there is no telling what the future may hold. Babies born today come into a very different world. There may be a person out there who lives to be 150 years old.

Currently, medical advancement is the most important way by which to extend lifespans. Modern healthcare allows for access to a near endless supply of medicines for every ailment. Procedures such as organ transplants, blood transfusions, and the use of prosthetic limbs maintain a certain quality of life for millions of people. As technology continues to improve, injectable nanobots can deliver drugs and fight off diseases inside the body. Professionals guess that hospitals can expect these microscopic warriors around 2030. Their eventual use has a powerful impact on the lifespan extension debate.

Advancements in genetics point to increases in life expectancy, as well. Experiments conducted on worms have had promising results. By tweaking two genetic pathways in a lab worm, caenorhabditis elegans, scientists increased the creature’s lifespan five-fold. The result? These worms live to the human equivalent of 400 to 500 years. Genetic interactions have proven integral in understanding the aging process. As the study of genetics continues to advance, more ways to increase the average human life expectancy may emerge.

Arguments Against Extending the Human Lifespan

Though survival and living longer have been staples of cultures throughout history, there are those who don’t wish to extend the human lifespan. Countries in the first world have vastly improved healthcare to the point where the average lifespan has reached nearly 80 years old. Meanwhile, people in sub-Saharan Africa live into their 40s at best. Opponents of extending lifespans in developed nations have many valid points. They argue that investments are better used to extend the life expectancies of marginalized populations around the world. Not doing so widens an already chasmic divide between Haves and Have-nots. Innovations in medicine could leave millions of people to suffer while others live for much longer than a century.

Aging and spirituality are inextricably linked. Many view the pursuit of life extension as an upset to the natural order. Life, they say, is to be lived with and for others. To spend one’s life in the pursuit of immortality is to waste life itself. Those seeking to extend the natural lifespan do so out of narcissistic self-preservation, not out of love for their fellow human beings. They forego community and relationships to preserve their individual egos.

Prolonging life presents interesting economic challenges, too. As the older population retires, they still need care and stability. Programs such as social security and Medicaid must provide for a far larger number of people than in the past. This may prove especially difficult in developed nations where more people enter into retirement than enter the workforce. A smaller workforce has to pay more to help care for the elderly. They pay for far longer, as well. Should the average life expectancy exceed current estimates, governments have to plan for how to take care of everyone.

People have always wanted to survive, to preserve a legacy. They want the annals of history to remember them forever.. In that way, humanity has not changed at all. The immortal tradition is not going anywhere. The only difference now is how to best pursue the desire to truly live forever. Would you want to live to be 150 years old? Let us know in the comments.

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