Author Topic: Repercussions of medical advancement  (Read 458 times)

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Offline magicmiles

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Repercussions of medical advancement
« on: November 12, 2013, 10:59:10 PM »
It seems to me that the overall goal of medical research is two-fold:

* To improve life quality
* To delay death for as long as possible

If that is the case, and assuming medical science continues to work towards these goals, won't we eventually encounter huge over-crowding problems worldwide, with huge strain on already dwindling food and energy sources?

I assume this is a conundrum widely considered. Anybody here have any thoughts on the issue?
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Offline wright

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Re: Repercussions of medical advancement
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2013, 11:37:40 PM »
If and when it does become an issue, it will likely be one born of success in other areas. For instance, if a majority of people are getting this life extension treatment, that implies the gap between the haves and have-nots will be virtually non-existent, at least for this particular area.

That gap is pretty big right now, despite historically unprecedented improvements. For it to decrease so that most people can afford treatment that gives them an active life-expectancy of (for example) a hundred years would require a lot of things to be very different than they are now.

Thomas Malthus warned about the basic problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malthusian_growth_model) over 300 years ago. The tipping point may have already been passed; our current civilization and the technology that supports it is very resource-intensive. That can't go on indefinitely.

I think of myself as cautiously optimistic about the issue (arguably because I've never had to live in a poor developing nation). I believe the human race will survive and eventually surpass its current state of development through a combination of ingenuity, rationality (born mostly of desperation, but still) and of course self-interest. That transition will definitely not be easy, pleasant or cheap[1], but I believe we can do it.
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Repercussions of medical advancement
« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2013, 12:06:12 AM »
medical research might increase the quality of life, health-wise, but without concurrent improvements in society and the environment, it only means that we will die healthier in front of a firing squad.

Medicine cannot single-handedly solve all the problems. Of course it doesn't try to either. Yes, if everything else was wonderful, or at least tolerable for all, then perhaps the lengthening of lifespans and life quality would eventually cause food and space crisis. But since we are generally so good at killing each other off no matter how much we resemble a mangy dog, methinks it won't be an issue.

It would be more fun to ask how our societies would react to a sudden doubling of the average life span. If people knew they could live almost 200 years, would skydiving and other dangerous sports become less popular? Would society be able to concoct ways to change careers after turning 100, so that life wouldn't be quite so boring? Would the legal system invent 'divorces' for friendships because one or the other friend got bored after 150 years of hanging around together?

Your questions are legit, magic. Mine are too. Sadly, we are too good at killing each other, either directly or environmentally or economically, to need to ask any of those things.

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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Repercussions of medical advancement
« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2013, 02:39:31 PM »
Thanks for your thoughts Wright and PP. One things for sure - us mature aged gentlemen won't see any changes.
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Offline Shaffy

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Re: Repercussions of medical advancement
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2013, 03:32:13 PM »
I feel like we will be well prepared to take action when the world need's too. I hope those problems don't occur during my lifetime. ;D I recently read a book called Enclave. It was basically about the aftermath of chemical warfare usage on country to country. The book is meant for teens but, it definitely was interesting to kinda see a possible ending to the world---besides dwindling of food and overgrown population.It is a trilogy.
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« Last Edit: November 13, 2013, 03:33:48 PM by Shaffy »
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Re: Repercussions of medical advancement
« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2013, 10:09:13 PM »
It seems to me that the overall goal of medical research is two-fold:

* To improve life quality
* To delay death for as long as possible

If that is the case, and assuming medical science continues to work towards these goals, won't we eventually encounter huge over-crowding problems worldwide, with huge strain on already dwindling food and energy sources?

I assume this is a conundrum widely considered. Anybody here have any thoughts on the issue?
I can readily agree to your first point, but I'm less convinced of the second. Quality of life matters that can be addressed medically, sure. Length? That seems to be a different area of research; perhaps related, and including some overlap but not the same.

I spent several years working at the HQ of a medical device manufacturer - specifically implantable medical devices like pace makers, surgical pins, insulin pumps designed to be implanted in the lower back, and thing of that nature. Quality of life was THE message, lengthening it in cases of disease controls was a side effect, not so much a goal, if that distinction makes sense. For perspective, the first pace maker produced was an external machine that plugged into the patient on one end and a wall outlet on the other. The patient was still confined to a bed, and the machine itself was quite a bit bigger than you might think. The first implanted one included a mid-sized suitcase that held a battery - the typical patient/recipient couldn't actually carry it themselves for some time after the surgery. These early efforts were absolutely aimed at buying time, but the purpose of that was still to keep the early patients alive long enough to improve the devices themselves, thereby improving the quality of their lives. It was astonishingly successful in a relatively short amount of time.

Regardless, that's a minor side point. Research is being conducted on both issues in any case, and marches ever onward. wright made mention of the issue of income as it relates to medical care and again, my previous experiences support that point. The corporation I worked for has just recently began building (or leasing) facilities in the Asia-Pacific region as the household income levels begins to rise and a middle class begins to emerge. Once there's a statistically meaningful population staying above sustenance, there's generally enough money available to make it worth the company's investment to have a small supply available (or nearby). If you happen to live in a underdeveloped nation, it's highly unlikely that any of their devices could be located within the borders of that country.

I guess what I trying to say is that advances aren't going to be equally accessible. Some people will undoubtedly benefit a great deal and some will be completely left out. Long term, there are a lot of other factors that will have as much or more influence on the population numbers as anything medical science is going to do. People still go blind in Africa from a disease that can be prevented with two doses of medication costing about $1 each.
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Offline jdawg70

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Re: Repercussions of medical advancement
« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2013, 11:45:54 AM »
It seems to me that the overall goal of medical research is two-fold:

* To improve life quality
* To delay death for as long as possible

If that is the case, and assuming medical science continues to work towards these goals, won't we eventually encounter huge over-crowding problems worldwide, with huge strain on already dwindling food and energy sources?

I assume this is a conundrum widely considered. Anybody here have any thoughts on the issue?

Back in the long-long ago, Thomas Malthus had thought of the problem of over-population:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malthusian_catastrophe

From what I recall and what the Wikipedia page is describing, Malthus had envisioned that populations would naturally self-control based upon available resources.  When the needs of the population exceeded available resources, the population would reduce (due to famine, disease, etc.) to a point of balance.  Population, in his mind, was viewed as a control loop with 'general resources for sustaining life' as the process control and population as the process variable.  I would argue that one facet of 'general resources for sustaining life' is medical advancement.

The problem is that this is an overly simplistic model of populations in regards to human society, and asking what the ramifications of medical advancement are with respect to over-population is an interesting question though is incomplete without referent to other 'population-affecting pressures'.  We can all envision a Logan's Run-esque future where control of the population is done by the population itself (counter to your second point); we can all envision a Borg-like society where individuality, and therefore (arguably) quality of life is deemed unimportant (counter to your first point); we can all envision apocalyptic events (human induced or otherwise) that simply annihilate the population to the point where we can no longer self sustain at all and extinction occurs.

Point being - has this question been thought about?  Yes, insofar as the general question of overpopulation has been thought of.  Do people today recognize this potential problem?  Some people, yes.  There are those who feel we are experiencing a Malthusian catastrophe right now.  Has anyone devised any kind of actionable solution that is morally satisfactory?  Nope.

More from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_overpopulation
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