Human Exceptionalism

New Staph Strain Demonstrates Futility of Immortality Movement

There is an alarming story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, byline Sabin Russell, that illustrates how life evolves to ensure that no matter how far we advance scientifically, death will always remain part of the experience of living. A terrible antibiotic-resistant strain of staph bacteria is spreading that could threaten us all. From the story:

Dr. Jeff Brooks has been director of the UCSF lab for 29 years, and has watched with a mixture of fascination and dread how bacteria once tamed by antibiotics evolve rapidly into forms that practically no drug can treat.”These organisms are very small,” he said, “but they are still smarter than we are.”

Among the most alarming of these is MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bug that used to be confined to vulnerable hospital patients, but now is infecting otherwise healthy people in schools, gymnasiums and the home. As MRSA continues its natural evolution, even more drug-resistant strains are emerging. The most aggressive of these is one called USA300.

Last week, doctors at San Francisco General Hospital reported that a variant of that strain, resistant to six important antibiotics normally used to treat staph, may be transmitted by sexual contact and is spreading among gay men in San Francisco, Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Yet the problem goes far beyond one bug and a handful of drugs. Entire classes of mainstay antibiotics are being threatened with obsolescence, and bugs far more dangerous than staph are evolving in ominous ways. “We are on the verge of losing control of the situation, particularly in the hospitals,” said Dr. Chip Chambers, chief of infectious disease at San Francisco General Hospital.

Of course, I am not saying that we shouldn’t try to help people live longer and healthier lives. And we certainly need to pounce on this problem by developing more stringent cleanliness protocols, for example, and by working hard to develop new antibiotics. But what we don’t need, in my view, is to chase a Utopian dream of immortality and put precious resources into that hopeless crusade.

Life is precious, but even more so because it is short. The transhumanist singularity is not going to save us. We need to live with the sobering understanding that we won’t last much longer even if we live to be 100. Accepting that reality, I think, can help us get the most out of the time we are here and to focus on the matters of life, philosophy, and faith that are really important.

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