Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Grasping the Holy Grail, but its too heavy to lift

News today that reducing caloric intake, even in people who are of a healthy weight, can produce health effects that may, possibly, extend your life. The New York Times article cites a study, to be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that tested the effects of rigorous caloric restriction in human beings.

The study authors are quick to point out that its results do not prove that a low-calorie diet will extend your life. A conclusive connection between low-calorie and longevity in humans is years if not decades away. In the meantime, it is clear that "the notion that going hungry could be the fountain of youth has captivated scientists and the public."

Wonderful. Then consider me a freedom fighter for food.

I've asked this question before, in the context of ballooning costs for drug treatments and end-of-life care, but I am continually baffled by the philosophy that death must be avoided and postponed at all costs.

Changing your diet to avoid a coronary at the age of thirty-eight I can understand. Cutting your caloric intake to 890 calories a day - or "four or five shakes a day and a specially formulated 'brownie'" - I find a little much.

Whence comes this absolute avoidance of death? Is it rooted in a fear of the afterlife? As we look inside ourselves and see, clearly, all of the skeletons that we have kept hidden from the gaze of others, do we worry that we might not be passing through those pearly gates after all? Or is it a simple fear of the unknown that drives us to cling as long as we can to what we do know, no matter the sacrifice?

I'm not suggesting that we ignore the prospect of death completely. Clearly, the pursuit of healthier bodies and of cures for our afflictions have created a world in which more people can productively contribute to the enrichment of humanity, and for longer periods of time.

But let us keep our eye on the ball. Let us ask to what end are we intent upon extending our lives? Why do we strive to reach the holy grail of immortality? Fear or ignorance of death, comfort with the familiar - to me these represent an insufficient foundation for the life-at-all-costs philosophy.

To those who urge a daily feast of 890 calories blended into shakes and a special "brownie" I say show me something more compelling than slowing down my metabolism so that I might live a while longer, gaunt and robbed of the culinary pleasures of life, or I'm going back to the buffet for seconds.


Blogger Potentilla said...

Agree with you completely! I think each person should make their own decisions about quality of life versus quantity of life. The goverment's role should be limited to making sure they have some reasonably good broad-brush information upon which to base these choices.

I actually think we choose "irrationally" often, because we evolved in an environment when we had a lot less control over life expectancy. But that doesn't mena to say we "ought" to choose to live longer at the expense of short-term pleasure. In fact, when you think how over-populated the world is and of the problems of an ageing population, it seems very odd that the popular wisdom is that one "ought" to try to live as long as possible.

Thu Apr 06, 10:17:00 AM EDT  

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