[Interviewer] In the recent news article in journal Nature “Aging pushed as treatable condition” Stephanie Lederman was quoted: “What we’re trying to do is increase health span, not look for eternal life.” What is your comment on this and similar statements.
[AdG] It’s very sad that people in politically sensitive positions, such as Stephanie, are forced to say things like that all the time. Stephanie knows, like everyone else in the field, that longevity is a side-effect of health: if you increase healthspan (i.e. you postpone the ill-health of old age), you will similarly increase lifespan. Everyone in the field also knows that there is no good age to die – that however much we succeed in postponing age-related disease and disability, we will always want to postpone it more.
But they also know that politicians and the general public are petrified of thinking rationally about all this, because aging has them in such a tight psychological stranglehold that all they want to do is put it out of their minds – so they feel forced into this downright dishonest kind of language that implicitly deprecates those few people who dare to be honest about the fact that the longevity side-effect of postponing ill-health is a side-effect that we should welcome. They feel that if they were to endorse the desirability of much longer lifespans, they would cause a backlash in political circles and a reduction in research funding. I’m quite sure they are wrong, and that if the whole field were as honest about all this as I’ve always been then it would have far MORE money by now – but there seems to be no way to persuade most of my colleagues of that.