How Long Would You Like To Live?
WHEN things go well, life is enjoyable. The thought of living on and on, even forever, may well appeal to you. But then hardships, perhaps great obstacles and tragedies, may enter your life. Yet, even then, you are not eager to die.
The fact is that people generally cling to life, cost what it may. In 1974, in the United States alone, cancer patients paid out seven billion dollars in an effort to stop that killer and continue living.
The New York Times of July 22, 1974, reported concerning a cancer patient, a doctor, who used every conceivable means to fight his illness and yet died at the age of thirty-nine, as follows:
“There are many other dying patients who, like Dr. Leinbach, put up a fight to the very last. . . . Their will to live is a basic human instinct . . . his widow insisted that every day he managed to stay alive was of great value to him. ‘Of all the things Gary wanted,’ she said, ‘it was life.’ . . . Just before his death, she had asked him if he considered the vigor of his efforts to stay alive worthwhile. She said he had answered clearly: ‘Yes.’”
When we have health there is a tendency to take life for granted. A magazine writer, after a brush with death during a serious illness, writes: “I don’t know when I have been so happy in terms of enjoying the simplest things—things which I had taken completely for granted before. I sometimes laugh at myself. It’s like going through a second childhood. I enjoy a drink of water. I enjoy a piece of fruit. I enjoy the sunlight. I go into my garden and look at the trees. I discover that I had never really seen what a tree looked like in all those years that I had good health. And I enjoy the birds’ singing—just everything!”
A teacher of philosophy expressed the sentiment of many others when he said: “It is outrageous that such a beautiful phenomenon as intelligent, sentient life should be encased in such fleeting vulnerable bodies.”
Potential to Live How Long?
One may grant that it is reasonable that man should live much longer, even forever, but is it scientifically possible? In its discussion of “Death,” under the subheading “Potential Immortality,” the Encyclopædia Britannica (1959 ed., Vol. 7, p. 112A) states:
“It may fairly be said that the potential immortality of all essential cellular elements of the body either has been fully demonstrated, or has been carried far enough to make the probability very great, that properly conducted experiments would demonstrate the continuance of the life of these cells in culture to any indefinite extent.”
Of course, this is the result of an experiment with cells in the laboratory. The Encyclopædia goes on to say that the cause of death is not surely known (that is, death by degeneration, old age). It may be from cell deterioration in the body. Or it may be from a gradual breaking down of organized functions of the cells and their inability to “cooperate” within a total organism, rather than the dying off of individual cells, which, when destroyed, are, in the natural process, replaced by new cells. An exception to this restorative ability’ is found in the nerve cells, which, when destroyed, are not replaceable. However, a damaged nerve cell can heal itself. Even a severed nerve, if properly sutured, can regenerate itself, though healing of the nerves is a relatively slow process.
Says Gary K. Frykman, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Loma Linda, California, School of Medicine, where one or two attachments of severed fingers are performed every month: “If more than one finger has been lost, or a thumb, the patient may feel that he needs to have them reattached to carry out his job, or even for cosmetic reasons.”
Frykman continues: “Under those circumstances, we tell the patient there is a 50-50 chance that we can reattach the fingers or thumb successfully, but we warn him that it may be several months before he will be able to get anything like full use out of them.” Thus, nerves do possess regenerative or healing power.
What Hope from the Scientific Field?
Medical researchers have labored hard and long on ways to delay aging and to prolong life. Can we look to them with hope? They can help a little. But there is no solid evidence of any progress toward a dramatic increase in the human life-span. The increase of the average life expectancy during the past fifty years is due primarily to a decrease in infant and child mortality. Writing in Bestways magazine, Graduate Pharmacist Louis Stambovsky decries the fact that mankind, maturing at twenty-one years of age, lives only about forty or fifty years of mature life. He calls attention to this interesting fact:
“It seems that every mammal [among animals] who lives in the manner and intent normal for his species, lives six to seven times its maturity age. The horse matures in about three years and dies between 18 and 21. The dog reaches a total growth in about three years and should attain the same span as the horse. This formula is applicable to the monkey, cat, bear, etc. Man’s maturity age is 21. By parallel deduction, he should live between 120 and 140 years.”
What prospect do science and medicine hold out? The Scientific American, summing up the matter, said:
“Even if the major causes of death in old age—heart disease, stroke and cancer—were eliminated, the average life expectancy would not be lengthened by much more than 10 years. It would then be about 80 years instead of the expectancy of about 70 years that now prevails in advanced countries.”
These statements are in agreement with the Bible writer Moses, who described the experience of most persons who reach old age: “In themselves the days of our years are seventy years; and if because of special mightiness they are eighty years, yet their insistence is on trouble and hurtful things; for it must quickly pass by, and away we fly.”—Ps. 90:10.
No Reason to Give Up
Do these sobering facts mean that a young person should not care for life, to make it as long as possible, or that an aged person should give up the idea of doing any worthwhile work or of making any contribution to the welfare of his fellowman? Not at all. We can take courage from a statement by Pharmacist Stambovsky.’
“Longevity . . . can be of inestimable value to the community, to the nation and to the world. Such persons are rich in valuable experience, gained through years of trial and error, successes and failures. Witness Edison whose fertile brain was active in the eighties; Gladstone was selected prime minister of England at 60, many years ago when 60 was really ancient, a position he held until 82. Walter Damrosch embarked upon a career as a concert pianist at 78.”
There are reasons, then, for doing the best we can with this life. How can it be made more enjoyable and profitable? Furthermore, is there an even better hope—that of everlasting life? Let us survey the matter further.
[Pictures on page 4]
A HORSE MUTURES IN 3 YEARS. MATURE LIFE-SPAN IS 6 TIMES AS LONG.
A DOG MATURES IN 3 YEARS. MATURE LIFE-SPAN IS 6 TIMES AS LONG.
A MAN MATURES IN 21 YEARS, BUT MATURE LIFE-SPAN IS ONLY 3 1⁄2 TIMES AS LONG.