There was a time not long ago when government funded most of the medical research in this country. (“Tech’s Quest for Immortality,” reprint from The Washington Post article by Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Week, May 8, 3/15 pg. 37.) Now, two-thirds of that research is funded by billionaires who set the agenda according to their interests — decisions sometimes based on their disabilities or those of a family member. (Ibid pg. 36.) The result is a public health policy being driven by private money rather than through a public process.
Research without a national agenda has its downside. Bio-ethicists worry that digitalizing our brains, manipulating our DNA and prolonging life, projects currently being funded, will have major consequences for the species. They also worry about the underlying assumptions driving the research: the “unwavering conviction that conquering nature is desirable…” (ibid, pg. 37) But do we really want to extend the life expectancies of brutal dictators? Can the planet sustain a longer-lived and growing population? Will the ability to manipulate nature deprive humans of the trait which has served them best: adaptability?
A fairer tax system would reduce the influence of individuals and put money back in the public domain. At the moment, the distortions billionaires have created in our politics are being replicated in medical research. If a recent PEW poll is accurate, the goals of private money tends to run contrary to the goals of the general public. 51% of people questioned felt that slowing, reversing or stopping the aging process was detrimental to the planet. If that private money were in the public’s hands as tax revenue, I suspect we would see more pragmatic goals, like improving schools and increasing the hourly wage to promote social equality.
The other day, my mother, age 99, looked at me over a plate of tacos and smiled. “I think I have lived long enough,” she said as if she were discussing the weather. As the remark was not the result of our conversation, I didn’t know what to make of it. If I were an oligarch, I’d have her live forever. But perhaps old, old age comes to terms with Nature’s wisdom. Something in her unmanipulated DNA allowed her to see that for every time there is a season.
(Originally published 6/2/15))