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Can Google Defeat Aging?

Google recently announced its new company, Calico, to address the “challenge” of aging.

This comes as no surprise, as the billionaires among us are always looking for new challenges, new ways to alter our perceptions of reality.

In the December 1, 2013 New York Times, an op-ed entitled, “On Dying After Your Time,” Hastings Center President Emeritus, Daniel Callahan, questions the wisdom of this initiative. I can only reinforce his reservations and add additional perspective.

We are all interested in the concept of immortality or, at minimum, dramatically extended life expectancies. We fantasize about it. We envision ourselves as vital, intelligent beings with added decades to enjoy our lives. Dr. Callahan raises red flags about this initiative and the possible social and economic implications.

Depending on your perspective (i.e. your age), you may agree or disagree with his observations about extended healthy lifetimes. He worries about the disruption of our economy if older workers continue to work, rather than leave the workforce in their sixties. Unless jobs become vacant on a massive scale, there will be no jobs for younger individuals entering the workforce.

He worries about the cost of medical care. He points out that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of Medicare expenditures alone will consume 5.8% of GDP in 2038 – compared to 3.5% in 2013. Many would agree that this cost will become “unsustainable.”

Perhaps more interesting from the individual perspective is the focus on quality of life. While we all want to live an enriching, full life, he points out that “adding years to a life doesn’t necessarily make it any fuller.”

Doctor Callahan acknowledges the contribution that medical science makes when it enables younger individuals to enter old age in a healthy condition. He concludes, “We are not, however obliged to help the old become indefinitely older. Indeed, our duty may be just the reverse: to let death have its day.”

We deal with this issue on a daily basis as we help individuals prepare their Advanced Health Care Directives. We talk about quality of life and termination of life. If Calico does its work successfully, these discussions may change markedly in coming years.

So, will Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google Founders, some day be vibrant octogenarians trekking tirelessly in Nepal? Or will they be living in a luxurious assisted living facility where they need physical assistance every time they want to trek down the hall to dinner?