As medical science advances, people are living longer. Certain diseases that plagued mankind are eradicated and this results in a lower mortality rate across all ages. However, medical science should not always be about increasing life expectancy. It should be more about improving the quality of life. This I do not agree with the statement to a large extent.
Increasing life expectancy by eradicating diseases is desirable. Medical science has made great strides such that diseases like smallpox are eradicated. Other viruses like polio have seen infected numbers greatly reduced due to the proliferation of vaccines. If we take a look at mortality rates in third world countries as compared to first, we can see that we can increase the life expectancy of the people in such countries through vaccines and medical care that are available in first world nations.
Increasing life expectancy by improving standards of medical care is also desirable. As technology improves, things like surgery to treat certain ailments will become cheaper and more effective. This means that certain previously ailments can be treated with surgery or certain medical advances. Take for example the invention VetiGel which can stop bleeding within seconds. With such an invention, patients who would normally bleed to death could be saved. This is extremely useful in times of war. This increases the life expectancy of wounded soldiers and this is desirable.
As medical science improves, machines like ventilators are able to keep a person’s heart and vital organs functioning even though the person may be in a coma. In many instances, the chances of such a patient ever waking up are very slim. Yet the family may be persisting with putting the patient on a ventilator in hope of a miracle. The cost to maintain a ventilator is extremely high. The family may need to suffer huge financial losses just to keep the patient on the ventilator. This is not desirable as it places great mental and financial stress on the patient’s family. Healthcare professionals need to give constructive advice about a patient’s recovery so that the family members can make an informed decision about the future of the patient.
Increasing life expectancy is not always a desirable thing especially if the person in question is suffering. When a person has a terminal illness, the pain and suffering that he or she has to go through are immense. Take cancer treatment for example. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are extremely undesirable treatments which not everyone can endure. There are instances whereby a patient may choose not to go through such treatment, especially if the chances of a full recovery are very slim. This is the reason why doctors usually give the patients the choice to agree to or reject the treatment recommended to them.
Instead, the desirable goal should be to improve the quality of life of terminally ill patients. This is the reason why much resources are ploughed into the field of palliative care and hospices. The ability to make the final days of a terminally ill patient a whole lot more bearable is something that medical science should be focusing on. It is imperative that we focus on how to best spend the days that we have left meaningfully rather than to increase the number of non-meaningful days of suffering.
Having a population living to an extremely old age is sometimes not desirable for a country. As people live older, more resources need to be allocated to take care of the ageing population. This is money diverted away from other activities like improving education and national defence. In countries like Japan and Singapore whereby the average life expectancy is 82 years, they have to have policies to ensure that the old are taken care of with adequate healthcare facilities. Every year that the average life expectancy increases, the more a society has to cater to take care of this aging population.
Increasing life expectancy is not always a desirable goal and we should not just look at this when we develop medical science. We should look at how to improve the quality of life as well. As the population of developed nations live longer, society should look into ways of making everyone’s lives more meaningful.