How Long Can We Live? (…and How Long Should We Live?)

Jacob Appel
Jacob Appel
Brown University

Jacob Appel is an American author, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic. He is best known for his short stories, his work as a playwright, and his writing in the fields of reproductive ethics, organ donation, neuroethics and euthanasia. Appel’s novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012. He has taught medical ethics at New York University, Columbia University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Brown University’s Alpert Medical School.

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How Long Can Humans Live?

Given the remarkable scientific and medical strides in the past few decades, many of us now wonder: “How long can humans live?” Of course, that brings up the difficult issues that society needs to deal with: How long should humans live? In other words, what are the complicated ethical challenges brought about by extending lifespans? Babies born this year have a life expectancy of 80 years, but just half a century ago that number was 72, and a full century ago it was just 50!

How will longevity change society? Should we be considering age-based limits on some activities (i.e., driving, mandatory retirement)? What medical choices should be available to various individuals in different circumstances, and are federal laws required in some areas? These questions have legal, moral, and ethical consequences.

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