Would you opt for immortality?

Most people say they would not. In surveys that ask people how long they would like to live, most say that they would not want to carry on much past the current average life expectancy. This is another example of status quo bias, or our emotional preference for whatever it is we are used to.1 Our personal life expectations are yoked to those of our generation’s life expectancy. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll of 2,012 American adults, for example, 60 percent said that they would not want to live past the age of 90, while another 30 percent said they would prefer to cash out by age 80. And these findings were consistent regardless of income, belief (or not) in an afterlife, and (in some cases) even anticipated medical advances. When it was proposed that “if new medical treatments slow the aging process and allow the average person to live decades longer, to at least 120 years old,” a slight majority of 51 percent said that they would not personally want such treatments, and that it would be “fundamentally unnatural” and “a bad thing for society.”

Leaving aside for a moment the societal question of overpopulation, resource depletion, and how we would feed and provide for the billions of surviving centenarians (and beyond), I find the “it wouldn’t be natural” objection to radical life extension readily gainsaid by a simple thought experiment. If you were given a death sentence of, say, tomorrow, would you want to live one more day in order to get your affairs in order and to tell everyone you love how you feel about them? Of course you would. How about one more week? Definitely. Another month? Absolutely. One more year? Well, there are more things to do, so sure. Would you like to live another decade or two or three? Sure! That would give you time to travel and perhaps even take up a new career.