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Lynn Hummel: There is a time to live and a time to die

Time Magazine published an issue a few weeks ago with the cover line “Can Google Solve Death?” The article inside told about all the amazing breakthroughs Google has achieved, including self-driving automobiles, Google maps, Google books, Google search and countless others, many of them free (if you know how to use them). In addition, Google owns Calico, an independent company that focuses on health and aging.

To be fair, Google has never suggested that they can solve death. The idea is to treat aging as a disease rather than a mere fact of life — this is what the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine has been doing since 1992.  But the thinking at Calico is that there is no problem that can’t be addressed by the application of huge amounts of technology, and everything is solvable if you reduce the information to data and throw enough processing power at it. If, by this process, we could solve and cure cancer, we would add about three years to people’s life expectancy. If you apply that thinking to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity and a few others, the impact would be startling.

But — I’m still gripped by the TIME cover line “Can Google Solve Death?” I think we all know in our hearts that there will always be death. We can put men on the moon, we can make powerful bombs out of tiny atoms, we can put 5,000 songs on a tiny chip, we can send free emails to any part of the earth in an instant, we can locate, within inches, spots on the ground or in our favorite fishing lakes, from signals to our GPS from satellites orbiting the earth, and scientists will continue to amaze us at ever-increasing speeds. But there will always be death. A doctor recently commented to me that man was not created to (mortally) live forever, then lamented that death is often regarded now as a “medical failure.”

Who would want to live forever on this earth? Who would want to live 200 years? 150 years? 100 years? The folks who are 99 want to live 100 years, but who else — and why? There is a time to live and a time to die. Can old dogs learn new tricks? With robots taking more and more jobs, do we need a world where there are more people and fewer jobs? How many can we feed? Where will they all live?

I salute medical science and research — the relentless pursuit of cures and life free of disease. I salute the “can do” attitude of Google and their amazing creativity. I salute the natural desire for long, healthy lives. But medical science and Google are not in charge of death. Solving death? Not gonna happen. Death is not a medical failure, but a fact of life. Thanks anyway, but no thanks.

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