What is a reasonable concept of immortality that can be achieved realistically? Certainly, nothing in life is absolute, not even immortality. Immortality cannot come with a guarantee, for example, against accident or suicide. Even immortal life cannot be insured against new zoonotic viral epidemics or even against infectious diseases presently defying the best efforts at cure. All that can be reasonably expected of immortality is the permanent suspension of degenerative diseases that would otherwise accompany aging and senescence. In other words, the immortals will not die of any of the diseases associated with old age (e.g., Alzheimer's disease, cancer, cirrhosis, congestive heart failure, diabetes, heart attacks, hepatitis, immunodeficiencies, inherited blood diseases, leukemias, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, Parkinson's disease, and stroke), and, as long as nothing else kills them, they can expect to live indefinitely which may, with a lot of luck, be forever.
Ironically, diseases peculiar to the young might represent a particular hazard to the immortals. Regrettably, the forever-young immortals will be exposed for prolonged periods of time (to say the least) to childhood diseases. Childhood leukemia which seems to have a viral rather than a genetic etiology, may become the scourge of immortals. Moreover, and certainly in the early stages of generating immortals, genetic diversity among the immortals would represent only a minuscule proportion of the biodiversity of the species. Resistance to new diseases among the immortals might be severely limited, rendering the immortals peculiarly susceptible and vulnerable to ever-evolving pathogens.
Immortality is not the panacea but only a step in the direction of endless, healthy life. Many of the problems associated with mortal life will be exaggerated by immortality rather than solved by it, but the same ingenuity and creativity currently brought to bear against these problems by mortals will continue to be available to immortals. In other words, human beings will certainly have to continue struggling against threats to life even after removing the threat of death—or, at least, of aging and senescence.
But other problems associated with mortal life may be solved by immortality. Given that the forever young will be sexually immature, the immortals will be sterile, providing a natural control on excess human fecundity (i.e., defusing the human population explosion). Moreover, one can anticipate that, in response to the inevitable shrinking of human biodiversity in the immortal population (although I would hope reasonable efforts would be made to preserve as much biodiversity as possible), a high priority should be placed on manipulating genes, fulfilling biotechnology's potential for creating a healthier and happier humanity. Hopefully, the immortals would represent a concentration of the exemplary traits of the human species. Presently, biologists do not know how to go from the beginning of this immortal narrative to the end, but we can learn. When decisions are upon us, sufficient wisdom will prevail to help us make good choices.
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