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In recent times, the hope of prolongevity advocates appears to have some factual support. In the twentieth century, for the first time, the increase in life expectancy has occurred at the end of the life cycle, rather than simply being the result of decreasing child mortality. In 1995, the average life expectancy for men was 72.5; for women, it was 79.3. As the number of centenarians continues to rise, the fastest growing segment of the American population has become those over the age of eighty-five. Moreover, large segments of the elderly population are believed to be in far better health than earlier generations. Such advances have led a new generation of prolongevity advocates to foresee a time when aging might be genetically deterred or obliterated. According to science writer Albert Rosenfeld, "the science of genetic engineering would one day progress to the point where genes could be modified, transferred, or deleted so that a genetic 'clock of aging'. . .might thus be adjusted in any way we chose to define as beneficial" (p. xiii). Like Franklin or Condorcet two hundred years earlier, such advocates of prolongevity are sure that the findings of science will virtually restructure the life cycle. And, while they wait, advocates such as Rosenfeld continue to endorse dietary prescriptions that hark back to the dictates of Cornaro.

As in the past, however, this confidence has not been without its critics. Many question the desirability of increasing the proportion of society's aged population, or the benefits of extending the life of the extremely debilitated. Despite all the changes brought by science, and while life expectancy has risen, they argue that the maximum life span of the individual has not changed: it appears rather set at 110, or at most, 120. Yet, clearly the hope of extending the life span will not be deferred by such criticisms. From Cornaro through Rosenfeld, the prolongation of life continues to engage the popular imagination and challenge the limits of science.



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Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 3Prolongevity - Early Prolongevity Writers, Scientific Prolongevity, Anti-longevity Literature, Conclusion