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From the Editor's Desk

Martin B Van Der Weyden
Med J Aust 2002; 176 (11): 509.
Published online: 3 June 2002

To age or not to age?

Australians are living longer than ever before. At the end of the 20th century, 20% of our people were aged 65 years or more and 1% were aged 85 years or more; at the beginning of the century these figures were 4% and 0.01%, respectively. With death rates continuing to fall, life expectancy will inevitably increase. Indeed, the world record, currently 122 years and five months, is predicted to reach 150 years.

In tandem with our increased longevity, our social fabric has changed. Science and secularism have usurped spirituality and religion. In their place, we now have the worship of the body beautiful. In his essay The medicalisation of old age, UK academic Shab Ebrahim suggests that our new mantra is “Keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved”, pointing out that “We have botulinum toxin for wrinkles, minoxidil for male baldness, whitening treatments [for yellow teeth] and hormonal therapy for menopause.”

The anti-ageing movement is gathering pace and demanding scientific solutions. Already, we have the specialty of anti-ageing medicine and, with its growth, geriatrics is said to be in trouble.

There is a growing expectation that science will “cure” ageing. Claims that stem cells and cloning will prove to be the antidote presage a time when recurrently re-created individuals will be tagged with the acronyms BC (before cloning) and AD1 (after duplication 1), AD2, and so on.

What are we to make of all this?

For the moment, ageing is inevitable and the worship of the body beautiful is at odds with reality. We should see ageing as synonymous with continuing quality of living rather than the mere accumulation of years.

  • Martin B Van Der Weyden

  • The Medical Journal of Australia

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