Bioethics Blogs

Living to 150

The Treasurer of Australia, the Hon Joe Hockey MP, recently received widespread attention with the statement:

It’s kind of remarkable that somewhere in the world today, it’s highly probable that a child has been born who will live to be 150.[1]

Hockey made the claim while discussing some of the problems Australia faces as a result of an ageing population.  While his statement was ridiculed by cartoonists and political rivals, he received support from some in the medical community.  The Dean of Medicine at the University of New South Wales, Peter Smith, described Mr Hockey’s claim as a “reasonable assumption”. Professor Smith noted that life expectancy for Australians has been climbing dramatically over the past 100 years. A boy born between 2010 and 2012 can expect to live to 80 years and a girl can expect to live to 84 years. This is up from 55 and 59 years respectively in 1910.

However the fact that, on average, people have been living longer and longer does not support the claim that there is someone living today who will reach 150. This line of argument confuses increases in life expectancy (the number of years the average human can expect to live) with increases in lifespan (the maximum amount of time a human can live). While life expectancies have been rapidly increasing over the past century, human lifespan has remained more or less the same for the last 100,000 years (at approximately 125).[2]  No human has ever got close to 150 and if someone is alive today who is going to live that long it is going to take different types of developments than those which have increased life expectancy.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.