Earlier in this series I mentioned I work in an Alaskan state government office and I take in copies of Death Certificates. By far, the decedents are over fifty and the most common manner of death is “Natural,” followed by a cause that ranges from end-stage COPD, to hypertension, to heart disease.
It’s also true, according to the World Health Organization, that many of the world’s top ten causes of death are considered natural. We can begin to decide how close we are to killing death based on those.
The top two causes of death, heart disease and stroke, and farther down, diabetes, are often associated with high blood pressure, obesity, inactivity, and unhealthy diet. Is it likely everyone will make lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of these diseases? (See A Diet for the Ages)
Probably not. It’s too easy to eat ice cream in front of a favorite television show instead of going to the gym, and my work in an office isn’t very active. The solution for most people would be pills and cures that would let us live the way we want, but how long until those are developed?
Smoking is another risk factor associated with heart disease and stroke and even more so with COPD and lung cancer. To wipe out those causes of death, we’d either have to cure the damage done by smoking, or convince everyone to quit.
What about natural causes that aren’t related to lifestyle choices? Many diarhheal diseases could be prevented by better sanitation. Malaria, which appears on the top ten causes of death in low income countries, could be reduced by fairly inexpensive drugs and mosquito nets. Both diseases drop out of the top ten causes of death when you consider upper-middle and high income countries. It’s just a matter of finding money to reduce these causes of death.
At this point, it appears it would be difficult to motivate everyone to change lifestyles or quit smoking to avoid some of the top ten causes of death. But what are humans if not inventive? Will we be able to build organs from our own tissues and just replace anything we ruin? Will stem cells someday be able to heal any damage done by smoking or heart failure? (See Healing Broken Hearts for more.)
It might help us live longer, but what if we remove the health consequences of our actions? Will there be no reward for self-discipline, no serious need to think about the future? Or is it possible that after our first lung transplant, we will finally quit smoking, recognizing how much better we feel with undamaged lungs?
World Health Organization, Top Ten Causes of Death. See causes of death for countries of differing income levels.
Information on several of the diseases discussed above: