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Health 50 years from now

May 28, 2008 | 12:35 pm

A half-century down the road, do you ever wonder what health care professionals will think of early 21st century medicine? Maybe they'll exclaim to each other, eyes wide with disbelief, "They used to think broccoli was good for you. They encouraged children to eat it," or "They gave people drugs to lower their LDL cholesterol." "Don't you mean raise it?" "No, lower." "Wow."

A new book, "The Way We Will Be 50 Years From Today", edited by 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace, asks 60 thinkers from the world of science, technology, ethics, business, politics, more, to make their best predictions for the states of our lives and the world in 2058. Predictions are all over the map--ones that are dire, ones that are optimistic, and more than a few calls for us to change our ways or face all kinds of crises. (One bold prediction: We'll have a colony on Mars by then. Another: By 2058 the U.S. will have adopted the metric system. It seems a stretch.)

Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey of the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center thinks that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder will be understood and treatable. Scientists will know they're caused by infectious agents--and will know that also for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, some cancers and quite a few chronic diseases. Because of this understanding, we won't keep cats, hamsters and birds as pets any more in case we catch stuff from them. Dogs still get to be our pets, though.

Oh, and we'll have to watch what we say, because neuroimaging technology will be able to catch people out in a lie.

Bioethicicist Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania seems to have fun with his contribution, imagining a typical morning for his grandson Simon Caplan. It would start with a breakfast of genetically engineered juice (tailored for Simon's specific genotype) and eggs engineered to be low cholesterol and high in protein. Simon would consider taking a double dose of his cognitive enhancement supplement but decide against it because he'd face a fine if he got caught. And he'd be waiting with bated breath to get results from the National Genetics Authority on whether it approved his planned marriage to his girlfriend. If Simon and Suzy went ahead and married without approval they'd face huge taxes for any sick children.

On the plus side, life expectancy is something like 140 healthy years, half of which is spent in retirement. "I have it better than my grandfather Art," muses Simon. "He died, frail and decrepit, at the relatively young age of 80" after a lifetime of "sitting in cars in polluted air eating food from sick and diseased plants and animals, struggling to travel 20 miles so you could work nine hours."

--Rosie Mestel