Idea Of The Day

Why Old People Want Stem-Cell Research

Yesterday the House of Representatives  voted in favor of a ban on human cloning. (Currently, Britain is the one country in the world that permits therapeutic cloning, though not everyone there believes this should be an excuse for national jubilation.) Even so, as Scott Shuger points out in Slate’s “Today’s Papers,” few representatives seemed to have much clue of the science involved and chose the occasion to exercise much biblical rhetoric and moral absolutism.

The House has not voted on embryonic stem-cell research, though the issue is proving to be equally contentious. ( Hendrik Hertzberg’s succinct argument in favor of ESCR appears in this week’s New Yorker.) President Bush must decide this summer whether federal funds should be available for such research. He should remember that the people ESCR is most likely to benefit are the over-65s—and old people get pissed off when politicians chose to ignore them. Remember all those terrifying grannies outside the court house in Palm Beach during the Florida recount? They are the shape of things to come. Increased life expectancy is a fact of modern life, but according to Professor TomKirkwood, who delivered this year’s Reith Lectures, old age is about to become THE fact of modern life. “Taking the human race as a whole,” he said “just 1 percent of the world’s population was aged 65 and above a century ago. This figure has already risen seven-fold and will rise to around 20 percent by the middle of the 21st century.” That doesn’t mean life over 65 is now going to be all golf courses and sea breezes; on the contrary, more people will requires cures that make their old age more tolerable, and as the NIH’s thorough report on SRC suggests, the research promises to bring relief to those suffering from Alzheimer’s (Nancy Reagan is enthusiastic about that), damaged organs, the consequences of strokes, and much else—in short, the ailments that make life over 65 such a misery.