Article 11 of this blog considered how we use our time on the world stage. Article 17 raised issues of sharing resources among the whole human family. Today we consider the cheerful aspect of morbidity.

I have seen a billboard proclaiming that the first human to live 1,000 years has already been born. Instead of considering that a triumph of science, think of its consequences. Granting all people equal right to live, how would that lifespan affect the population? Even if human fertility were limited to 20 of the 1,000 years of human lifetime, population expansion would become problematical. Can “immortality projections” encompass all possible factors of sustainability?

Changes affect humanity gradually. Lifespan has increased; both production of, and efficient use of, resources have also increased. We are not sure of a defined limit to growth, although we intuit that there is one. Infinite supply is likely out of our reach. Moreover, quality of life is not synonymous with length of life. There is a balancing of factors.

Balancing has been evident in my lifetime. Smallpox was severely injurious and fortunately controllable, so we eliminated it. On the other hand, motor vehicle deaths have been significantly reduced but not eliminated. That leaves us with a balancing problem: what level of death rate is acceptable at what cost?

I was a child when seat belts were unheard of. When my children were small, child safety seats were effectively unheard of. (We sometimes had all five children in one back seat.) Today’s safety standards impose a significant cost burden on families. This is justified by scientific evidence from cost-benefit analysis. We agree to regulations when they improve life.

Covid19 belongs within this discussion. Just as we did not save lives by outlawing motor vehicles, we are not about to shut down the entire economy to stop a viral infection. Like it or not, we are daily exploring the cost-benefit analysis of our precautions. The higher death rate brings more urgency than we had with seat belt research. At the same time, disease investigation is far more complicated than analyzing crash statistics. We have greater urgency and less clarity.

The irony of “the cheerful aspect of morbidity” calls attention to the role that death plays in clearing the stage to make room for future people. The examples suggest resisting death, but not at all cost. On the one extreme, we refuse to welcome Covid19 as divine eugenics and rescue from overpopulation. On the other extreme, we have not committed to zero deaths at any price.

As usual, this blog is not the repository of answers. Hopefully, readers increase their patience by briefly considering the current question: How much inconvenience will we pay for uncertain health improvement?

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