Better to Burn Out Than to Fade Away

While Americans see promise in biomedical advances, they are skeptical about treatments to extend life expectancy becoming a reality any time soon. Plus, most say they wouldn't want to live so long.

This article published with permission from The Burrill Report.

Americans express skepticism about medical treatments to radically extend life expectancy becoming a reality anytime soon, but perhaps more surprising is that most say they wouldn’t want to live to be at least 120 years old, a new survey finds.

Pew Research Center conducted the telephone survey of more than 2,000 adults at the end of March and beginning of April on their views about aging, health care, and medical advances. It found that while Americans see promise in biomedical advances, they see peril as well.

The survey comes as medical advances, improved nutrition, and public health efforts have helped increase life expectancy around the world. By 2050, the U.S. Census Bureau expects one in five Americans will be 65 or older, and at least 400,000 will be 100 or older. Americans had an average life expectancy of 78.6 years as of 2011. There is a belief among some that medical breakthroughs will allow people to slow the aging process, or even reverse it, leading to radical life extension.

But the survey found that while people are generally optimistic about their futures and aging, and two-thirds of respondents say that most people would choose to undergo medical treatments that would allow them to live to be 120 or more, 56% say they personally would not.

The survey also found wariness about new medical treatments. About a quarter of the respondents say the have “a lot” of confidence that new medical treatments are carefully tested before becoming available. And while just more than half say medical treatments are worth the costs because they allow people to live longer and better quality lives, more than 40% said medical treatments often create as many problems as they solve.

They also expressed skepticism about the equity of any therapies that would radically extend life spans should such medical treatments become available. While an overwhelming majority says such treatments should be available to all, two-thirds of respondents say in practice, only the wealthy would have access to them.

Copyright 2012 Burrill & Company. For more life sciences news and information, visit www.burrillreport.com.