What Hope for Longer Life?
“Man, born of woman, has a short life yet has his fill of sorrow.”—Words of Job, recorded at Job 14:1, “The Jerusalem Bible.”
HOW often has the shortness of life been described in poetic phrase! Like Job, a first-century writer said: “You are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing.”—James 4:14.
Have you too noted that life is pathetically short? About 400 years ago, William Shakespeare wrote: “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow.” And during the last century, an American Indian chief asked: “What is life?” Then he answered: “It is the flash of a firefly in the night.”
How long can humans expect their life span to be? The prophet Moses described the situation in his day, some 3,500 years ago: “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.”—Psalm 90:10.
Seventy years—that is only 25,567 days. And 80 years consist of just 29,219 days. Really, so few! Can anything be done to extend human life?
Can Medical Science Help?
Science magazine noted: “Life expectancy at birth [in the United States] has increased from 47 years in 1900 to about 75 years in 1988.” As a result of reducing the infant death rate through better health care and nutrition, people in the United States can now expect to live about as long as Moses stated. Nonetheless, are any dramatic increases anticipated in how long most people live?
Significantly, Leonard Hayflick, a leading authority on aging, said in his book How and Why We Age: “Advances in biomedical research and the implementation of improved medical care in this century have certainly had an impact on human longevity, but only by allowing more people to approach the fixed upper limit of the human life span.” So he explained: “Life expectation has increased but life span has not; the distinction is critical.”
What is the “fixed upper limit” of man’s life span? Some say it is uncertain that anyone in recent times has lived beyond the age of 115. Yet, Science magazine said: “As of 1990, the oldest verified age that an individual has survived is just over 120 years.” And early this year the French minister of health, along with droves of reporters and photographers, visited Jeanne Calment of Arles, France, to mark her 120th birthday. Moses too lived to the age of 120, far beyond the norm.—Deuteronomy 34:7.
Do scientists hold out hope that people may commonly live that long or longer? No, most do not. A headline in the Detroit News read: “Researchers Say 85 May Be the Outer Limit of Average Lifespan.” In the article a recognized authority on aging, S. Jay Olshansky, said: “Once you go beyond the age of 85, people die from multiple-organ failure. They stop breathing. Basically, they die of old age. And there’s no cure for that.” He added: “Barring a reversal of human aging on a molecular level, the rapid increases in life expectancy are over.”
Science magazine noted that perhaps “the upper limit to longevity has already been approached and that further significant declines in mortality are unlikely.” It is said that if all causes of death reported on death certificates could be eliminated, life expectancy would be increased less than 20 years.
Thus, many scientists view the length of man’s life span as neither strange nor subject to change. Yet why is it reasonable to believe that humans will eventually live much longer?