Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Methuselah Foundation

I found out about the Methuselah Foundation through Hulu's non-profit advertising. It was nestled between an ad for saving the rainforest and encouraging people to send their children to camp--in other words, it was presented as just another harmless foundation, a cause that is meant to tear at our heart strings. Its mission?

"The Methuselah Foundation is a non-profit medical charity dedicated to extending healthy human life through proven programs supported by people like you. The Foundation supports a variety of strategies that will accelerate progress toward a comprehensive cure for age-related disease, disability, and suffering."

So they have created a foundation dedicated to extending healthy human life. Now, it could be suggested that in a broad sense all of medicine has this goal, as it attempts to keep people healthy, and thus living longer. But the Methuselah foundation is tweaking this project, or at least making it more explicit. After all, it isn't a far stretch to take 'comprehensive cure for age-related disease' to mean 'comprehensive cure for death'. To encourage this type of research, the foundation is sponsoring the mprize, a motivational tool to get scientists to lengthen the life of lab rats. From what I can tell, essentially, this foundation is dedicated to finding the fountain of youth.

This confuses me. When I was in 4th grade, we read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. In the book, one family finds the fountain and lives forever, only to spend their eternal lives lonely and unfulfilled, living in an ephemeral world. The message of the book is clear: living forever would suck. I thought it was just understood--that eternal life is just one of those things that sounds good but we all realize is bad at the end of the day, like eating ice cream at every meal.

Apparently, with this kind of foundation being formed, it isn't. I can see the appeal of wanting to extend life (to an extent..hehe), but I also feel strongly that extending human life too long is actually just accelerating the experience of death. I think the mistake is in forgetting how our experience of time is linked to the amount of time we experience. To live for a thousand years would just mean that a year would seem to us like a week, and more likely than not, we would squander it in similar ways. Life's pace would slow, adolescence stretch for decades, children would rarely, if ever, be born--the milestones of our life cycle would be few and far between.

For these reasons, I think the whole foundation is wrong-headed. I'm not anti-relieving suffering at the end of life. But I'm pro-accepting death. Without it, I don't think there would be such a thing as life. It's a packaged deal, and it just seems futile and weird to try and avoid that. Why don't we take the energy surrounding the Methuselah foundation and start a different foundation: one dedicated to getting as many as people as possible to live like they were going to die tomorrow?


  1. Hi - I founded the Methuselah Foundation and appreciate your thoughts. The goal of the foundation is to extend the healthy lifespan, not end death. Extending the lifespan will not protect one from falling down the stairs or getting shot jumping out the window of the wrong house. Further, the goal of the Foundation is to eliminate *scientifically avoidable* suffering. I've spent lots of time in hospitals and nursing homes and I can tell you that no one wants to be there. So, the Foundation is focused on delivering OPTIONS that simply don't exist today. Options that reduce suffering and make joy a recurring possibility.

    People typically died when they were in their 40s in 1900 from truly awful things. Many of those diseases are gone. I'm glad they're gone. I'm glad my children don't get cavities. People live 76 years now in the G20 countries. That means society has gotten a 36 year dividend in the last century. I'm 57, reasonably healthy, and I can say categorically that I'm glad no one listened to the folks that said vaccines were an abomination in the late 1800's and early 1900's. This week, there has been much press about a company that Methuselah Foundation helped fund and found. That company is Organovo. This company makes a printer that can produce new tissues from a persons own cells. Eventually, the millions of people who need new organs and who currently live under a miserable death sentence will benefit from such technologies - I look forward to these things happening.

    For me, each day is wonderful - yes, they go fast, but I like being alive and healthy. I like saying good morning to my family every day, and I love seeing them grow and prosper.

    So, I say, life is good - why not more?

  2. Thanks for your comments! I accept and embrace that health care should and will continue to advance, lengthening lives and reliving much suffering. But I don't think extending life as long as possible should be an outright goal, mostly because I think it is a goal rooted in fear of death, not embrace of life. Just as the existence of black makes us aware of the beauty of white, it is because we die that we relish in life.

  3. hi kezia, i love the discussion on time.. it helped me a lot senior essay thoughts i'm working on :)

  4. Kezia: Why not just kill yourself right now then? You seem to value life just about that much.

    How dare you badmouth efforts to try to fix the problem of aging. It undermines the work of thousands of scientists and people trying desperately to save us from such a short existence.

    Any rational adult shouldn't care about your naive opinion. Grow up.

  5. As long as people live, there will be problems. Likewise, long life will also provide unexpected pleasures. The kind of research that Methuselah Foundation is supporting will be something anyone can opt out of, but I'm fairly certain that preventable suffering is something that will catch on pretty quickly.

  6. You read a book in the 4th grade. That's why people should grow old and die? That's idiotic.

  7. I have a litter of mice that are a few months shy of 6 years old - tried to tell you about it but nobody seemed to care.

  8. Kezia is"Full of Baloney" as this blog is so aptly named.

  9. Why get vaccinated, look before you cross roads, brake for red lights? Why not play Russian roulette every morning when you wake up? All of these could kill you and would make life a thrill if you managed to survive.

    This piece does nothing more than to point out an obvious point and hypocritically criticize said point. If you don't want to live forever you don't have to. Just remember, just because someone doesn't share your own ignorant opinion does not mean their work is baloney

  10. Its funny when people saybthings like this. I wonder if they will feel that way when death is knocking at their door. This article is just obstinate and idealistic. Arguing for the sake of arguing.

  11. Its funny when people saybthings like this. I wonder if they will feel that way when death is knocking at their door. This article is just obstinate and idealistic. Arguing for the sake of arguing.