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Public's Views on Aging, Medical Advances and Radical Life Extension

Posted: August 13, 2013

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The survey also seeks to put the forward-looking questions about radical life extension into perspective by asking Americans about their views on aging, health care, medical advances in general, personal life satisfaction and bioethical issues.

The findings suggest that the United States public is not particularly concerned about the gradual rise in the percentage of Americans who are 65 and older. Nearly nine-in-ten adults surveyed say that "having more elderly people in the population" either is a good thing for society (41%) or doesn't make much difference (47%). Just 10% see the graying of America as a bad thing.

On balance, the public also tends to view medical advances in general as good (63%) rather than as interfering with the natural cycle of life (32%). And the public is optimistic that some extraordinary breakthroughs will occur in the next few decades. For example, about seven-in-ten Americans think that by the year 2050 there will be a cure for most forms of cancer (69%) and that artificial arms and legs will perform better than natural ones (71%).

But there is skepticism that radical life extension will be possible anytime soon. Only a quarter of United States adults think that by 2050 the average American will live to be 120 years old; nearly three-quarters (73%) say this either "probably" or "definitely" will not happen. And, if it does happen, many Americans foresee both positive and negative consequences for society.

More than four-in-ten adults (44%), for example, say that radical life extension would make the economy more productive because people could work longer, but 53% disagree. Two-thirds say they think that dramatically longer life spans "would strain our natural resources" and that medical scientists would offer life-extending treatments before they fully understood the health effects. And although a solid majority of Americans (79%) think that life-extending treatments should be available to everyone who wants them, most (66%) also think that, in practice, only the wealthy would have access to the new technology.