Cheating Death

CHEATING DEATH: THE PROMISE AND THE FUTURE IMPACT OF TRYING TO LIVE FOREVER purports to be a discussion of the impact of life-prolonging medical advances, but that premise is just a hook on which the authors hang their predictions about life in the twenty-first century. Marvin Cetron, a forecasting consultant, and Owen Davies, a senior editor at OMNI magazine, both have written previously about the future, and this book appears to be little more than another version of past work, with a little polish.

The authors make allusions to scientific work that will prolong life and eliminate many of the diseases of old age, but the primary basis for their firm belief that people will soon live past the age of one hundred years seems to be studies of mice treated with melatonin, a product of the pineal gland. Allusions to other scientific studies are vague, more promise and possibility than fact. The book suffers seriously from a lack of documentation; it contains neither notes nor a bibliography. What readers are left with is a collection of the authors’ thoughts about the future, some linked to an age-extended population but many independent of that premise. The primary text fills less than half the book; the remainder consists of four appendices discussing home and hospice care, trends for a postmortal America, trends for a postmortal world, and surveys of opinions about aging. Particularly disappointing is the short- term emphasis: Many of the trends discussed will reach fruition in the next twenty to thirty years, and by the authors’ own admission, life-prolonging technologies will just be coming into widespread use by then.

The primary conclusions are that social security systems must change, because they cannot support a larger elderly population, and that people will be forced to work for most of their extended lives. Predictions about the labor market are interesting but scattered. The authors predict both labor shortages and surpluses, and they describe competition for scarce jobs but also note the high value of workers with decades of experience. It is primarily younger workers who will suffer through lack of opportunity for advancement.