Eternal Youth

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Dear doctors, preachers, lawmakers, scientists, apprentice alchemists and all those with a stake in prolonging the lifespan of the western population without any thought for the consequences.

I respectfully bring to your attention the following proposition: Enough is enough. We, the aging population, are not content to participate in a vast scientific experiment that is not of our devising. We did not spend our lives acquiring hard fought financial and emotional independence in order to revert to childhood at the end of our alloted span.

The myth of eternal youth is fine in the abstract, but like many fantasies, should not be acted out. Further, what you are offering us is not proper eternal youth, prancing around at ninety with a six pack and all our own teeth. Instead what we get is eternal old age - years of dying slowly.

In the past, heart disease and similar fast acting and relatively painless ways of shuffling off our mortal coil were available to our ancestors - their heart stopped and they died. Game over. Now you will happily drag us back from the gates of death, no matter what the cost or the end result. By a process of elimination, what is left is the big C and other nasties - slow, expensive, years of feeling bad, invasive treatment and uncertainty.

Or, even better, the twin horns of Alzheimers and dementia. Both of these are great options, because it's not just the elderly suffering as they forget where they have left their keys, what they call their dog and why they needed to go to the toilet before that wet patch appeared. They can also alienate their surviving friends and loved ones, and then, in periods of lucidity, remember just enough that they feel bad about their behaviour. Nice.

Of course, not only do you offer us the possibility of dying slowly and bereft of dignity, but we also get to do so at great expense. And the medical/industrial complex is not going to simply reach into its capacious pockets to fund the gizmos and pills that are keeping us alive and unhappy. No, the bitter irony is that the toad work is going to be eating into the quality end of old age, just when we might have aspirations to be silver surfers or grey panthers or whatever, in order to pay for our miserable final years. In only a few generations, the mirage of early retirement is gradually becoming a pile of sand. In the face of pension fund failures, the implosion of state welfare and the rising cost of care homes, the baby boomers are looking into a deep dark hole at the bottom of which is a sign marked no cash.

So we are going to need to keep our jobs till the bitter end, work longer to pay for our expensive senescence. But has anyone told our employers? No-one is making it easy for the 50-60 age bracket to keep their jobs, or heaven forbid to actually apply for a new one. Thrusting middle aged middle management still consider anyone older than them who is not actually running the company to be "past it, Grandad." So not only will the old be working, they will be doing so in a menial role, subservient to some scruffy oik with a GNVQ in computer studies. They don't have a City + Guilds in the work they've been doing your entire adult life because they didn't need one when they were entering the job market. But now - no piece of paper, no job.

Stretching before us is an increasingly unpalatable contract - work longer at cruddy jobs in order to pay for longer years of decrepitude, followed by an agonising and/or humiliating death. As you hand over the fountain pen for us to sign on the dotted line, you can 't really blame us for asking whether we have any choice. But in all but a very few countries, we don't.

Prating preachers and sermonising moralists tell us that life is sacred, no matter how miserable. Every month it seems some family member or doctor is being dragged before a court after finally cracking in the face of immense suffering and pleading from a loved one. If we leave it too late we are deemed too gaga for our view to be taken into account, and can be pumped full of drugs before being packed off to the most squalid granny gaol available. Choice is minimised by the system - in many cases, relatives and victims alike are bystanders in a sophisticated and flashy show in which technology is used to keep people alive beyond the point of tolerance, whether that is what they want or not.

Well, I don't agree and I don't intend to play your game - you won't take me alive!


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