While human death is inevitable due to limitations in lifespan, several scientists have hypothesized that aging is a disease that requires a cure. This proposition is both intriguing and promising because while it attempts to push the limits of science and medicine, it also challenges the social construct of aging.
From a sociological perspective, aging is a complicated topic. Scientists have been successful in increasing life expectancy through medical breakthroughs, and without a doubt, their purpose is unquestionable. However, these same breakthroughs have created social problems because they merely delayed human death without addressing the diseases that tag along with old age.
Why We Should Consider Aging As A Disease From A Sociological Perspective
Aging creates fear. This is understandable because old age is the new face of death according to Celine Lafontaine. In her journal article, she said the fear of aging is a result of a cultural precept that emerged during the age of post-mortal society—a period that marked the beginning of modern medicine and the predominance of industrialism. In this society, a young population is more sustainable because younger individuals are more viable from a socioeconomic standpoint.
It is also important to note that in an ideal society, the pattern of age distribution should follow a higher number of younger individuals than older ones. However, advances in medicine have created a demographic revolution according to Bruce C. Vladeck and James P. Firman. These advances have reshaped the pattern of age distribution resulting in older individuals outnumbering the younger ones.
A population with a higher proportion of older individuals burdens society. In countries with an aging population, economic costs are worrisome. These costs include expenses related to healthcare services and other social services, as well as workforce imbalance.
Nonetheless, although science and medicine have increased life expectancy, the fact remains that people age, and this biological process would ultimately render them frail and thereby unfit to contribute to society.
Considering aging as a disease might be tantamount to promoting the same fear that pervades in a post-mortal society. This proposition, after all, highlights the undesirable facts about growing old. However, a deeper look at this proposition could bring forth an appreciation of the ongoing scientific and medical initiatives aimed at battling aging.
If aging is indeed a disease, then there should be a cure. This cure is perhaps the missing link that could redeem science and medicine from its failure to improve quality of life despite increasing life expectancy.
Advanced age could also mean presumed maturity of thought coupled with the accumulation of experience, both of which offer value to society. A tireless society would allow the sustained or uninterrupted pursuit of scientific research or sociopolitical undertakings without the need to reeducate the younger populace. A cure for aging remains farfetched. Still, it would result in people in their 60s acting as if they are in their 30s. They might partake in the workforce, and they would be free from costs associated with special healthcare and social requirements. An aging population would not be a problem anymore. Furthermore, with birth planning in place, there would be true sustainability in age distribution and population demographics.
Of course, some would argue that aging is a natural process. However, bioethicist Arthur Caplan has a sound argument. In his paper, diseases ranging from coronary atherosclerosis and cancer to tooth decay and clinical depression are nearly universal in their distribution. The occurrence of these diseases seems as if they are inevitable phenomena. Diseases are thereby no different from aging. Both result in the same outcome—the impairment of normal biological function.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Caplan, A. L. 2005. “Death As An Unnatural Process.” EMBO Reports. 6(S1): DOI: 1038/sj.embor.7400435
- Lafontaine, C. 2009. “Regenerative Medicine’s Immortal Body: From the Fight Against Aging to the Extension of Longevity.” Body & Society. 15(4): 53-71. DOI: 1177/1357034×09347223
- Vladeck, B. C. and Firman, J. P. 1983. “The Aging of the Population and Health Services.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 468(1): 132-148. DOI: 1177/0002716283468001009