Tag Archives: life span

The Longevity Myth

We all believe that our life span has significantly increased and believe that we are having a better quality of life nowadays compared to say what people had hundred years ago. But is that really true? As a child, I knew many people who lived beyond 100 years.  But I have hardly come across a centenarian in my last 20 years of medical practice. And that has intrigued me a lot. If our life span has really increased, we must be seeing more and more people living beyond 100 years. But that is not the case. Then, how come the health statistics show that human longevity has improved?

Before I elaborate on that, I would like to pose one question: Imagine that one woman conceives in the month of January and delivers her baby in October and another women conceives in February of the same year and delivers her baby prematurely in September. Now which baby is younger and which baby is older? According to our current thinking and calculations, the second woman’s baby is older than the first woman’s baby. But truly speaking the first woman’s baby is older because she conceived her baby 1 month before the second woman and her baby’s organs and tissues are more mature compared to the other baby. It’s just that this baby came out of the womb late.

While calculating the life span, we take it for granted that human life starts when the baby comes out of the womb. But we know that life exists even before that. The journey through the birth canal merely represents an event in one’s life. It just represents a change in the habitat for the baby. It’s not the starting point of life. The baby was very much alive before and also had played inside the womb. So, ideally one should also include the intrauterine life while calculating the life span.

One may argue that the baby can’t be considered as an independent being whilst inside the womb as he is totally dependent upon and is still connected to his mother. But the baby would still be dependent upon the mother even after the birth and would still remain very much in touch with her mother for most of the time. Dependency and physical connection are rather relative things just like the ‘viability’ thing that our doctors often talk about.

If the ability to lead an independent life is to be taken into consideration in calculating life span, then the people of modern era fare much worse compared to those in the past. In modern society, many children remain dependent upon their parents even up to 40 – 50 years. Up to about 20-30 years or so, they do nothing except get ‘educated’ and live wholly upon their parents. And after that they take parental support to take care of their own kids (if they are lucky enough to have them!). Of course they do become independent and keep themselves away from parents when the parents become old and frail and are in need of support! (The scenario is not exactly the same in the ‘developed’ societies but is definitely worse).

In contrast, the ‘uneducated’ and ‘unemployed’ children of the olden days became independent and helped their parents as early as 10-15 years, Also they took care of their own kids and looked after their parents when they became old. If we consider the number of years that people lived a meaning life as their life span, which isn’t actually a bad thing, the average life span of modern generation hardly crosses 10 years or may even be zero!

If one wants to ignore the life inside the womb because that makes the calculations easy, one may do so. But one should be cautious of the erroneous conclusions that it can lead to. We know that in olden days, more lives were lost in early childhood due to various environmental challenges and infections. But what is not realized is that nowadays more lives are lost even before they could make their way out of the womb. While we have included the infantile and childhood deaths in calculating the average life span; out of our ignorance and insensitiveness, we have chosen to ignore the lives lost inside the womb. And that has lead to the false impression that our average life span has increased in recent times.

In olden days, most Down’s babies would come out of the womb and live for at least some years (on an average 20-30 years). But nowadays most Down’s babies would get killed inside the womb and thus remain hidden from the mortality statistics. That obviously would lead to a spurious increase in average life span. (People may justify the in-utero medical murders by arguing that those ‘handicapped’ babies will suffer if allowed to come to this ‘deadly’ world. But the truth is Down’s babies of the olden days lived much more happily and stress freely than the intelligent people of the modern world) And not only Down’s babies, many other fetuses are getting murdered inside the womb in the name of health care and many more lives are prevented from coming into this world for fear of them competing with us for resources. 

So the apparent increase in human life span is only a result of our statistical malpractices and not a real increase. We can’t be proud off and keep praising ourselves for things that we must be ashamed off. If the human life span has really increased, then we must be seeing more and more people living beyond 100 years. It doesn’t require a qualified statistician or public health specialist to realize that. Truth is as simple as that. And not only the human life span has come down, but also their potential to produce children has come down in modern days. And even worse is “what used to be a consequence of joyful living, has become a hard task for the modern couples” as one Mystic put it down.

Okay, for a moment, let’s ignore the life inside the womb.

So our life span has increased. But at what expense? How much life we are investing for that? Imagine that you live for 80 years but you spend 40 years of your life taking pills, undergoing tests, going around hospitals and worrying about death. What’s your net life span? That’s just 40 years. And you also need to take into account of the life years that different people (your carers, doctors, nurses, scientists, pharmacists etc) put in to make you live long. Obviously we need to subtract the life years invested from the life years gained to know the net gain in life years. If we critically analyze the data, we will realize that the number of life years sacrificed far outweighs the number of life years gained i.e. we are actually loosing much of our life in our attempt to live long. In other words, we are incurring a net loss. Imagine that there exist two versions of a car. The newer version serves for 15 years but spends half of its life in shed for one or the other problem and consumes lot of our resources and time. The older version served only for 10 years but it hardly ever required us to take it to shed. Now which version is more efficient or superior?

And what is the quality of life that we are investing or sacrificing and what is the quality of life that we are gaining in return? We sacrifice the young energetic childhood, youth and adulthood (for education, career, jobs etc) and what we gain is redundant old age. The quality of life indicators that we use nowadays are also highly questionable. The quality of life of someone living in a concrete building but much of the time stressed, depressed, isolated is obviously much worse than someone leading a relaxed life in a small hut with all the family members around.

Nowadays we have the concept of brain death to facilitate organ donation. ‘Brain dead’ is a state where in a person’s body is alive but he/she doesn’t feel anything. That is, the individual is alive but feels no sensations, no happiness, no suffering, no stress, no fear. Now what shall we call the state wherein a person is alive but is always depressed, stressed, exhausted, agitated, fearful etc. Isn’t this ‘mind fucked’ state worse than the ‘brain dead’ state?

If we don’t consider a brain dead person as alive, then how can we count a person who is in a worse state as alive? Compared to older generation wherein people continued their family professions; modern generation are definitely more stressed, depressed and fearful at each phase of life: Small kids for want of parental care (most parents as we know are busy with their jobs nowadays and child care is often relegated to paid workers or unpaid workers i.e. grand parents!); older children and youth due to school phobia, exam phobia, career phobia; grown ups from family stress, job stress; elderly from separation, lack of affection, ill-health, death phobia etc. So it is obvious that the effective lifespan of modern generation is much lower compared to that in the olden days.

And then, how much harm we are doing to the environment or the ecosystem as we ‘live’? What is happening to the life span of other animals on this planet? Apparently Earth has lost half of its wild life in the past few decades due to human intrusion and their uncivilized behavior (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf). Any intelligent species would know that destroying the ecosystem would also endanger its own survival. And that poses some really fundamental question. Is Homo sapiens still the intelligent species on Earth? Or intelligent Homo sapiens became extinct long ago?