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The Future Of Health When Death Becomes …optional

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Tags: learning

What if doctors no longer played God and you became CEO of your own health?

What if medicine were tailor-made for your own DNA?
What will the world be like when people start living to 150 – or even forever?

If only the wealthy can afford super-longevity, will the growing gap between rich and poor lead to a new form of social inequality?

These are some of the questions Intelligence Squared explored in The Future of Health: When Death Becomes Optional. Massive change is already under way. New tools, tests and apps are taking healthcare away from the professionals and into the hands of the individual. Wearable devices which monitor our fitness and activities are already ubiquitous. Before long they will be superseded by ‘insideables’ – chips planted just under our skin – and ‘ingestibles’ – tiny sensor pills that we swallow. The plummeting cost of DNA profiling means we will soon be entering the era of truly personalised medicine – the right drug for the right person at the right time – instead of the same drug for everybody.

All this means that we will be living longer, healthier lives. Some of the world’s top scientists believe that ageing itself can be treated as a disease, and the race is on to find a ‘cure’. Google and other Silicon Valley giants are pouring billions into longevity research, hoping that they can find the elusive cause of ageing and deactivate it, putting an end to the age-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimers that we tend to die of. If they succeed, the first person to live to 150 may have already been born. And an elite handful of very wealthy tech entrepreneurs have even more ambitious dreams: to make death just another medical problem which technology will sooner or later disrupt.

But what will defying ageing and death mean for society? What will be the impact on our financial, social and environmental resources when people start living well into their ‘second century’? And what will our democracies look like when old people are in the majority and start voting for all the privileges to be channelled to themselves?

We were joined by Dr Daniel Kraft, Faculty chair for the Medicine and Exponential Medicine program at Singularity University; João Pedro de Magalhães, senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool, where he leads the Integrative Genomics of Ageing Group; and Professor Tony Young, the NHS’s National Clinical Director for Innovation (known as ‘the NHS’s disrupter-in-chief’). The event was chaired by documentary maker and award-winning science journalist. Dr Michael Mosley.

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