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The L Drug

© October 2008 Anthony Lawrence

I was in my 90's when the first real rejuvenation drugs became available. There had been precursors decades before that; like many of my age, I had taken synthetic resveratrol since my sixties and the "Resveratrol Ultra" and "Super-R" that replaced it a few years later. Those drugs only delayed aging and death, but for me and many others, what used to be inevitable was put off long enough that we "made the cut", as we say now. The L drugs came in time for us to benefit.

Many didn't make that cut, of course. It sometimes seems odd to me that I remember so many dead people. People younger than I may have never experienced the death of anyone they know. If they have known someone who died, the death was probably accidental and they think of it as a terrible tragedy, something very abnormal and unexpected.

But death was hard for us, too. Even though I was born in a world where people expected to age and die, we still cried at funerals. We knew (or "thought we knew", as we say now) that death was inevitable, but that didn't make us accept it stoically. Nothing has really changed today, although the pain of losing someone now is perhaps more acute. People say they feel "cheated" when a friend or loved one dies; that it shouldn't have happened. We felt the same. We were not numb to death just because there was more of it.

We still have enough death. That's one of the social "problems" that people were so worried about as these drugs began to appear. Overpopulation would destroy the world if people didn't age and die. As it turns out, our world population has actually become more stable, and it didn't require draconian reproductive laws or forced "generational cleansing". People may argue about why the promise of eternal life seems to have made most of us less interested in breeding, but the simple fact is that it has and the usual crop of accidents, murders, suicides, war, pestilence and disease still kills off enough people to make room for those few who do want to be parents. So far, it's working.

That may change. Medical science is still advancing at a rapid pace and some say that soon no disease will be incurable. Even accidental death is getting harder; if you are anywhere near medical assistance, even the most gruesome mishaps can usually be repaired today and who knows what tomorrow may bring? But for now, we don't worry about overpopulation. Maybe next millennia we will have to.. we'll see.

People who are too young to know what life was like "before" ask me what I'm most surprised by. I'm really not sure. Yes, things have changed, but I can't say I'm really "surprised". I wouldn't have guessed correctly about many things, but that doesn't make them surprising. Social mores, customs, beliefs are very complex. Introducing a major change - arguably the biggest change humans have ever experienced - certainly has had unexpected consequences. But hindsight takes much of the "surprise" away: I may not have fully anticipated what this world would be like, but there are only a few things that really surprise me.

I wasn't surprised that we didn't overpopulate the world. I was a little surprised that some people couldn't change their life style enough to get the benefit of the L drugs. As our doctors constantly remind us, you can still kill yourself with bad habits. Screw up your cellular chemistry enough with booze or drugs or even just obesity and sloth and the L drugs either can't do their work or can actually cause more serious disease. Although medical science can do amazing work, sometimes things are just too messed up. We've had a few hundred years to learn that lesson, and most of the folks who wouldn't learn it are long gone, but we still get a few now and then. As an ancient comedian said, "You can't fix stupid". Society now looks upon unhealthy living as a form of protracted suicide.. I guess in a way it always was that. But it was different then. You'd often hear people say things like "Something has to kill you" as they dug into their second helping of desert. You don't hear that anymore: people take much better care of their health now.

People do forget that when the L drugs first came out, no one was sure that they really meant eternal life. Some scientists still aren't convinced of that, although the existence of centuries old mice and equally long lived house cats and dogs seems to indicate otherwise. But in the early days, we didn't really know. We certainly didn't know how important "healthy living" would be for the drugs to be effective. Animal studies had been done with healthy animals; it was only later that the drugs were tested on animals with induced "bad habits". It's been said that those studies were a windfall for gyms, organic food and nutritionists.. the promise of a healthier life was never enough to get most people to exercise and eat intelligently, but the promise of eternal life certainly is, isn't it?

I definitely wasn't surprised that these drugs are cheap and readily available even to the poorest of the poor. Early on, some expected that only the wealthy would get the benefits of longevity - if they believed it was coming at all! They forgot the market potential: it's one thing to market an expensive cancer drug that might be needed by a few hundred thousand people. It's quite another thing to develop drugs desired by billions. And of course patents run out very quickly when compared to our life spans - the first L drugs were more expensive than they are now, but the cost was never out of the reach of most, and now they are so cheap that we give them away all over the world. I didn't expect that, but I should have: when "everybody" wants something, it becomes necessary for governments to supply that want.

Speaking of patents: If I had thought about it at all, I think I could have foreseen the current bickering about copyrights. The "life of the author plus 70 years" rule was certainly well intentioned, but didn't anticipate some of us being three centuries old. Obviously something has to be done about this, but I'm not wise enough to even guess at what.

I was surprised by religion. I thought religious belief would be completely gone by now, but it isn't. Diminished more, certainly, but it still hangs on. Very few of the faithful seem to be in any hurry to "meet their Maker" - most still take their L's on the same schedule as the rest of us and visit the clinics yearly for scans and adjustments. But enough still cling to belief that most cities and large towns still have a functioning church or two. And there are pockets of real crazies here and there: people who stop taking their drugs and decide to age and die naturally. A lot of that is religiously inspired, but not all of it. Some people just decide this is "unnatural" and act accordingly, though many doctors will tell you that the "naturalists" often return to the pack after the first signs of aging appear. Some of the ultra religious also decide that meeting Jesus can wait..

I remember that the early efforts in this area could extend healthy life, but at some point the animals still died, from causes that were completely mysterious to the scientists of the time. It seemed like death was still inevitable - that you could die feeling young and healthy, but you were still going to die. Some of the religious claimed that as "proof" of a Supreme Being. Of course we did find out why those animals died, and we did design drugs that prevented that.. science marches on.

I can tell you one thing we felt differently about: prison sentences. Today, a punishment of life imprisonment without parole and without L drugs is a harsh sentence reserved for the most heinous crimes and in most countries it is the most harsh punishment - few places still have a death penalty. Of course that's because life without L drugs is a death penalty, just delayed. But before L drugs a life sentence was often seen as "letting them off easy" and death sentences were much more common. Nobody now thinks of being sentenced to natural aging as "coddling", do we? We've seen several cases where an incarcerated person has begged for euthanasia - in countries where such an appeal is possible, of course.

And look at nursing homes. In my early life, nursing homes were everywhere and a lot of people ended up living in one as they got older. That's very rare today, and when some as yet intractable disease causes someone to need such care, we're shocked.

We used to worry about losing our memory, but not in the way we do now. Our memory loss was from aging - look up "senility" in Google if you have no idea what I'm talking about. Today, apparently, we only lose the memories we don't refresh often, but the scientists point out that our brains have physical limits. At some point, there just will be no more room, and we really don't yet know what is going to happen. Will old, less used memories just be overwritten or will we be unable to move short term memory to long term? Scientists argue both sides of that, but nobody is old enough yet to have reached that point.

By the way, when this all started some folks just didn't seem to understand that their brains are just cells like every other organ in their body. They'd say things like "Well, sure, you can keep repairing the body but the brain is going to still get old." Of course their view of life extension was replacing parts, not rejuvenating cells.

Arguments also continue about "losing the zest for life". Back at the beginning, when we were just starting to understand that this was real, people argued that at some point people would become bored with life. Those arguments go on, although psychiatrists tell us that the incidence of depression is no higher now than it ever was. However, the doom-sayers insist, it's only been a few hundred years. You may still enjoy life now, but what about in a thousand years? Ten thousand? I don't pretend to know, but so far, I'm doing fine. As www.livescience.com/health/050411_aubrey_interview.html (link dead, sorry) Aubrey de Grey said a few centuries ago:

It's not really a matter of living forever, it's just a matter of not wanting to die. One doesn't live forever all in one go, one lives forever one year at a time. It's just a case of "Well, life seems to be fun, and I don't see any prospect of it ceasing to be fun unless I get frail and miserable and start declining." So if I can avoid declining, I'll stay with it."

Divorce rates didn't change either, but some still think they will. It is true that people are marrying later (there is no reason to rush, after all), and there are many more "open" marriages, but apparently the view that people couldn't possibly remain close to one another for hundreds of years was wrong. Love may not be eternal, but so far it's doing fine. Again, we may look at it differently in another thousand years, but my bet is that there will still be happy couples even then.

And, unfortunately, there will probably still be wars, murders, greed, corruption and other societal ills. We may be very long lived humans, but we are still humans. Yes, as we get older we do seem to be less inclined to settle our problems with violence and if that trend continues there may be hope for a utopian world yet, but surveys tell us that few of us really believe that. We seem to all agree that it seems impossible that we can all ever live in harmony.

I'm one who at least hopes otherwise. We definitely seem to be heading toward more shared social norms - that was starting even before the L drugs. With all the time in the world for education, more and more people are aware of the tragic lessons of history and seem to be more interested in avoiding problems. As so many of us have learned multiple languages by now, it is very rare for people not to be able to communicate with each other - we seem to have much more in common now than we ever did. There is definitely a common distaste for "stupid and unnecessary" death - there always was, of course, but it seems to be stronger now. We still have our little wars, we still have terrorists, but we have many more pacifists now and I think that trend will continue.

We are beating poverty. Illiteracy and ignorance decrease every year. It's truly wonderful how many people have been willing to dedicate a few decades of their lives to helping others. Of course we have those decades available to us now. Spending twenty years as a volunteer in an under-developed country isn't quite the sacrifice it used to be, but it's still a wonderful thing, and it is making a real difference in the world. There IS hope.

Really, I don't think it's time to close the book on the ramifications of L drugs. It just hasn't been long enough to know. Personally, I'm looking forward to revisiting this subject every few hundred years. I'm more optimistic than most, perhaps, but I think the best is yet to come.

This little fantasy excursion was prompted by a few recent postings I came across:

Pharmaceutical Fountain of Youth Could Cost Pennies
Anti-Aging Drugs Could Change the Nature of Death
Searching for Fountain of Youth in a Pill

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More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Tue Oct 14 17:47:11 2008: 4645   rbailin

As I started to read this, I scrolled down the page expecting to see an attribution to Bradbury, Asimov or some other well-known SF writer from the 50's and 60's. Failing that, I googled part of your opening sentence, certain that I've read a short story that began just like this in the past. No dice.

So bravo for a well-written, well-crafted SF essay that had me fooled.


Tue Oct 14 17:50:00 2008: 4646   TonyLawrence

Well, I think I have certainly read something in a similar vein, but afaik there's no plagiarism here :-)

Tue Mar 17 14:41:28 2009: 5736   TonyLawrence

I came across this today: (link)

Sun Jun 19 02:08:50 2011: 9576   TonyLawrence


www.newsdaily.com/stories/tre75c5ld-us-aging/ (link dead, sorry) studies of progeria indicate that aging may be a treatable "disease" someday.

Wed Jul 6 21:59:00 2011: 9604   TonyLawrence


"De Grey believes that we are within 25 years of finding the medical technology to essentially bring a ‘cure’ to aging. He says the first person to live to see 150 is already alive and that the individual who will first live to see 1,000 years could be born within the next two decades."


Thu Sep 1 11:22:55 2011: 9760   TonyLawrence


Anti-cancer viruses: (link)
Anti-virus drugs (link)

Advances like these will not retard aging, but they will allow people to escape some of the other things that kill us off early.

Sat Nov 26 13:17:13 2011: 10250   TonyLawrence


Here's an L drug for yeast: (link)

That kind of research is moving very fast right now.


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