By Peter van der Wel
New developments in medical science can keep us alive longer and longer. However, should we want to live longer? Perhaps it is necessary to draw a line somewhere in the (near?) future. A fixed maximum lifespan. Imagine we, as a society, determined the moment of death for everyone at 250 years old (for example). That could be accomplished, for instance, by a genetic modification of our genes. This may seem like an absurd idea now, but there are several good reasons for thinking this through. Why do we (at least most of us) have to die at a time that we do not know beforehand?
How would it be, if we all knew in advance exactly when we would die? I will give some examples. To start with something very practical, you could plan the money needed during your retirement very precisely. You would not have to save extra money for possible years after your death. That is the financial aspect, but imagine now, you know that you will live exactly until your 250th birthday.
Then you do not only know until what day you may need money to live by, but you also know how much time you have left to do the things you always wanted to do. So, you can now plan in advance what you want to have accomplished at 50, at 100, 150 and finally at 250 years old. Then, on your deathbed, the chance that you have done what you wanted to do, will be a lot bigger
Speaking of deathbeds, you can also organize this in advance. Who do you want to have around, how do you want to organize it, with which music, where, etc.? I guess, it will also be a lot nicer for your loved ones when they know well in advance when you will pass away. No more unexpected shocks, but a clear moment which they can live towards.
As a society we can then choose this moment in such a way that people do not have to end up in a situation of ever more physical and psychological deterioration, as most of us do in the present situation. An elderly person, is kept alive in ever more degrading circumstances. This directly influences the cost of rising health care, as the average life-expectancy continues to shift up and not surprisingly, the final years turn out to be the most expensive years.
Again, now all of this may seem like an absurd idea, but what if there were a lot of benefits coming with it? For example, the guarantee that you would live all your life in very good health until the moment of your death. That you would no longer have to be afraid of a sudden heart attack, or being handicapped for the rest of your days or even a sudden death?
Even then we would have to get used to this idea. But I guess that may well go in small steps if it turns out that these steps have positive effects. For example, by legalizing the voluntary termination of life from a fixed age. A chosen end, at home or somewhere in a beautiful house, or in the middle of nature, where friends and family can gather together for the last time with the soon-to-be-deceased in a joyful way to be part of the approaching end.
Or perhaps the determination of an age limit above which only palliative medical interventions take place. Or, less far-reaching; a health insurance that reimburses everything until that fixed age, but from then on only reimburses a palliative package.
In that way we will gradually get used to the positive consequences for the well-being of those involved and for the surviving relatives. Then we will learn that a controlled end moment is just as pleasurable as a controlled starting moment.
Peter van der Wel works as a futurist and economist based in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and is co-founder of the Dutch Future Society. Peter can be reached at: email@example.com and his website: www.vanderwel.net.