The avoidance of death and the desire to prolong life for as long as possible, and even to live for ever, has been the desire of so many people. Many people, especially in the affluent West, have been self-convinced of their ability not to die by the increase of people who are living to be 100 years-old or older.

There is a hankering after a Paradise where death is not existent, a removal of the last enemy. In his guide to Milton’s Paradise Lost, Leland Ryken comments that the Garden of Eden is ‘an image of longing – longing for the irretrievably lost’ and, ‘a universal longing for a place that no longer exists.’

However, a recent study, however, has shown that there is indeed a finiteness to life on this earth – there is no elixir that we cannot partake to cheat this inevitability.

We do not want to be told that our lives are frail things, ready to be snatched away – sometimes without warning. The words of the 17th century poet, Robert Herrick, does not sit well with our mentality:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying.

And this same flower, that smile today,

Tomorrow will be dying.

In the United Kingdom, as an example, there are at least 260 companies, 250 investors, ten not-for-profit bodies and ten research facilities that are using the latest technologies to investigate the possibility that our lives can be extended for as long as possible. There are also numerous products on the market seeking to reverse or disguise the ageing process, such as the dyeing of the grey hair, the skin treatments and the cosmetic surgery.

The prospect of drinking from the holy grail of long life is non-existent as our biology breaks down, especially as we get older – the physical memento mori that we carry within us every day. There are the experiences of illnesses, diseases and conditions that assail our bodies.

One of the authors of the report, José Manuel Aburto, commented: ‘More and more people get to live much longer now. However, the trajectory towards death in old age has not changed.’

The datasets in the study showed a pattern of mortality: a high risk of death in infancy which declines rapidly in the immature and adolescent years, remaining low until early adulthood, and then continually rises as age increases.

It is a more common experience that people will face a fifth of their lives, if not more, living with ill-health with conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart conditions. It has prompted the United Kingdom to include in its grand strategy challenges a mission that it will be ‘ensuring people can enjoy at least 5 extra healthy, independent years of life by 2025.’

It is the sad truth that the extension of life is not even throughout the world, or even within nations, as mortality is often affected by environmental factors such as the availability of medical care, the provision of suitable accommodation and the preservation of the natural surroundings.

Regardless of our environment, the reality is that our cells will break down and, the older we become, the more certain it is that we will die. As we get older, the deposits of knowledge that have accumulated in the banks of our minds should remind us that our bodies and minds will break down. As the wisdom of Moses reminds us: ‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach.’  

Author(s)