Living to a ripe old age (Comment, 13 February
) with loads of chemical and engineered aids to help us keep mobile is one thing but, with one half of the population providing care for the other half, who is going to pay for it all? As professionals, we have a responsibility to think these things through to the bitter end — and that doesn't just mean the financial aspect.
We already know that the Earth cannot sustain the present population in its present state. The peoples of the already industrialised nations are increasing their consumption at an absurd rate, much of it entirely unnecessarily. As the emerging nations industrialise, the over-exploitation of the earth's resources is set to increase, further exacerbating the problem.
Space exploration in the search for an alternative home is not a real alternative to facing up to our excesses. We must reduce our consumption first, thus helping to persuade the emerging nations that we have recognised the error of our ways. Then we have to help them to realise a reasonable and sustainable standard of living.
In parallel, we have to face the presently almost unthinkable. We have to be able — allowed, in fact — to decide for ourselves when we have had enough. All those scientific props will not make life worth living indefinitely. Painkillers will make us like zombies and the natural wear-out process will still apply: the brain will slowly die, as it does now except that it will be more noticeable at 150 years old.
There has to be a purpose to life or it becomes unbearable, as any of us who have seen relatives surviving in care homes know.
The Comment talked of living 'with chronic ailments for far longer' and 'many years of constant care and monitoring' but failed to make the connection from 'demand the chance to enjoy a reasonable quality of life' to 'and end it when that quality has gone'.
Governments have a temporal horizon of four, maybe five years. Professional engineers and scientists have over 10 times that range. We must take responsibility for taking the lead in these issues.