Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV



Part I: The Intrusion of Death


Chapter 1.

'Natural' Death:
A Medical Fact Or Legal Fiction?

By one man
sin entered into the world,
and death by sin;
and so death passed upon all men.

Romans 5:12


     We all know that we must die, sometime. This is a fact of life. Man is, in short, a mortal creature.

    The Greeks, with tongue in cheek and with considerable subtlety of thought, held that the ideal was to die young but to postpone dying as long as possible! It is indeed hard to know whether a short life of youthful health is to be preferred to a long life with the accompanying ills of old age. Given the choice, most of us would settle for the latter. There may be, however, something to be said even for failing health, for as Sir Charles Tennyson (grandson of the famous poet) remarked in an interview recently, "the surest recipe for a long life is never to feel really well"! (1) There could be some sound medical sense in this, though the difficulty lies in defining how much ill health one ought to be prepared to "enjoy" with this in view. It is a paradox that we wish for long life while fearing the process of growing old which inevitably goes with it. The Greeks certainly hit upon the ideal, but how difficult it is to achieve.

1. Tennyson, Sir Charles, The Listener, BBC, London, 8 July, 1971, p.39, in an interview.

     pg.1 of 17     

   What we are increasingly finding out from biological and medical research is that both senescence and even death itself almost certainly form no essential part of the process of being alive, that natural death is unknown to vast numbers of living things, that functioning protoplasm per se is in no way naturally subject to death. For animals below man, death seems to be a statistical probability rather than a biological necessity.  
     Physical immortality now emerges as a perfectly valid concept, and the phenomenon of death appears rather as an intrusion, something foreign to life even for man himself. It is true that man now dies inevitably.* Yet the evidence increasingly supports the view that death is no more "natural" for him than it is for millions of lower forms of life which simply go on living for ever if they are not killed. In man, death is more like a disease than a consequence of having lived.
     The anthropologist Gy. Acsadi and the demographer J. Nemeskeri, both of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences of Budapest, recently pooled their energies and their information to produce what must surely be the most thorough analysis of the factors governing human mortality ever undertaken. Their conclusion is summed up quite early in their text with the words:

     Although 50 million people died every year in the last decade, biological death could not once be ascertained. Using adequate standards, examination always established some disease, injury or poisoning as the cause of death [emphasis mine].
     According to the present state of our knowledge, people die of diseases and of pathological processes. The possibility of long human life without pathological signs and whether human death of a purely biological character without pathological changes is at all conceivable, is still an open question. It would, however, be of some interest to study the extraordinary life spans of certain people, possibly achieved by the interaction of exceptionally favourable circumstances.

     These two authorities, in spite of their admission that "it would be of interest" to study the life histories of some very long-lived individuals, do not by their own confession have much confidence in the many reports now available (quite apart from the records in Genesis)

* Herman Bavinck commented: "Men of science are by no means in agreement about the causes and nature of death. Over against those that see in death a natural and necessary end of life there are many who find death an even greater riddle than life, and who roundly declare that there is not a single reason why living beings should from some inner necessity have to die." [Our Reasonable Faith, translated by Henry Zylstra, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1956, p. 2581.]
2. Acsadi, Gy. and J. Nemerski, History of Human Life Span and Mortality, Akademiai Kiado, Budapest, 1970, p.15.

     pg 2 of 17      

of such people! They say, "Many examples of longevity have been recorded in literature but there is little value in the reports." (3) We shall consider scores of records of long-lived individuals in a later chapter, but for the moment it is enough to note that Acsadi and Nemeskeri would virtually exclude the reality of natural death for man altogether. Man always dies from accident or disease: natural death is more legal fiction than medical fact.
     But surely one may ask, Even if a man does not die of either accident or disease, may he not die simply of old age? Well, even this is surprisingly difficult to establish, as we shall see. The evidence available from many lines of research at the present moment agrees in this that there really is, as Acsadi and Nemeskeri are saying in so many words, no known case of a human being dying a natural death. In short, he is really always "killed" by something, and usually the death certificate will specify what that something was.
     They are not alone in this conclusion. Some years ago, in 1938, an editorial in the medical journal Lancet under the title "Old Age in Mind and Body" took notice of the visit to England of one of the world's most renowned pathologists, Dr. Ludwig Aschoff, who had completed a series of critical review articles in Medizinische Klinik on the morbid anatomy of old age. The editorial notes:

     It is easy to adopt the sophism that it is life that consumes the body, and that natural death marks the exhaustion of a store of energy; but this explains nothing since it is not necessarily those who live strenuous lives who die young. . .
     In Dr. Aschoff's long experience (he is now 71 years of age) he has never found a case of purely natural death: autopsy has always revealed some pathological process as a cause.
     Sometimes, however, he has noted that disease may be less distressing in its effects on the aged and he recalls the "unexpected" death at the age of 97 of a colleague only two days after he himself had seen and talked with him. Here Aschoff expected to find a case of natural death, for there had been no sign of illness, but at autopsy a severe lobar pneumonia of 4 or 5 days standing was found together with numerous metastases of a malignant tumor of the thyroid. This old physician who was well qualified to appreciate his physical state, had suffered little discomfort and had apparently been unaware of his condition.

     More recently Dr. Hans Selye of Montreal, probably the world's leading authority on human stress, asserted that in all his autopsies he has never yet seen a man who died simply of old age, nor does he think anyone ever has. (5) Dr. George W. Casarett, radiation pathologist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry at the time of writing, was reported in Science News Letter as saying

3. Acsadi, Gy and J. Nemeskeri, ibid., p.16.
4. Aschoff, Ludwig: in the editorial, "Old Age in Mind and Body", Lancet, 9 July, 1938, p.87.
5. Selye, Hans, quoted by Stephen E. Slocum, "Length of Life", Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, vol.13 (1), 1961, p.19.

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that he knew of no evidence indicating the existence of a "built-in time clock." (6) Aging is a "pathological consequence." From a philosophical point of view "man could be a potentially immortal animal."*
     It is necessary to pause for a moment to consider what is meant here by the term "natural" death as used by Aschoff. He meant death as a result simply of the passage of years in the absence of disease or accident as a cause. If life is a fixed and measured quantity having a precise end as it has a precise beginning and having a limited power to sustain itself, then, when a man exhausts this limited supply of energy, he dies naturally, expectedly, inevitably. What is becoming clearer increasingly as a result of research into life processes is that there is no such limitation. A living thing does not age in the accepted sense, in the sense that a car does, or a pair of shoes. It is apparently capable of unending renewal of its own energies. Life, once initiated, will continue indefinitely. A living thing must have its life terminated for it by some mechanism not inherent in the living-ness of the thing itself. We shall see plenty of evidence of this subsequently.
     Thus when a man dies, he really dies because something kills him. He is, in fact, put to death. It may be by some disease, or it may be by a defect, or injury, or accident. The cause of death is foreign to the phenomenon of life. Death is strictly not "natural" to man so far as the medical evidence goes.
    Yet, commonly speaking, medical literature in general and death certificates in particular use the term "natural death" while really they mean something quite alien to nature in the sense that disease is alien. For example, a recent article on some factors in sudden death due to heart failure while driving a car is titled, "Natural Death at the Wheel."
(7) This article is illustrated from twelve cases. All of them describe serious accidents resulting from the sudden "natural" death of the driver at the wheel. And every single case reveals that the sudden death was not natural at all. All the deceased had heart failure as a result of some pathological condition of long standing. Such things as severe coronary arteriosclerosis, acute myocardial infarction, massive subarachnoid hemorrhage caused by rupture of a congenital aneurysm, and so on. It is perhaps useful to employ the word natural here to distinguish these deaths from poisonings, drownings, and such like accidents, but one can hardly speak of a diseased heart

6. Cassaret, George W., "Radiation Slows Down Aging in Dogs", Science News Letter, 30 Aug., 1957, p.136.
* C. F. von Weizsacker, an internationally known biochemist, observed: "I see no biochemical reason why individuals should not be possible who would stay alive indefinitely, if not killed by force." [Relevance of Science, London, Collins, 1964, p.134].
7. West, Irma, G. L. Nielson, Allen E. Gilmour, J. R. Ryan, "Natural Death at the Wheel", Journal of the American Medical Society, vol.205, 1968, pp.226-271.

     pg.4 of 17     

as a natural heart or a death by disease as a natural death if one wishes to be precise.
    It is true that medical literature often employs the term natural death and the meaning is clear enough in the context, but in point of fact such types of death are really anything but natural. They are pathological. Aschoff used the term in a more precise sense, and his conclusion is fully corroborated by Selye and Acsadi and many others in the field. No man ever dies a strictly natural death simply marking the termination of his own little allotment of life energy. Man dies, slain by some intrinsic defect which undermines the vitality of his cells, yet which is still unidentified except in so far as the Bible tells us that death gained entrance in the first place (Romans 5:12) through the eating of a forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:7).

     Professor H. S. Simms of Columbia University in 1947 was reported to have expressed the view that "there is at the present time no proof for or against the possibility that we can some day extend our active life an extra one hundred or two hundred years with retention of youthful health, intelligence, and appearance." (8) In a more popular vein, Simms was prepared to go much further by saying that if the human body could retain throughout life the ability to resist disease and to repair breakdown which it possesses at the age of ten, "man would have a life expectancy of 800 years and some individuals might survive 22,000 years!" (9)
     Twenty-two thousand years seems rather an exaggeration, but it at least points up a notable fact of life that is increasingly emerging from gerontological research, which is that we do not appear to have any built-in limitations against achieving immortality, but only acquired ones, acquired by inheritance or by experience from birth or perhaps even from the time of actual conception. Dr. Selye said:

     When a living cell is nourished, washed and sheltered in a test-tube, it neither decays nor dies; it divides and it endures. (11) It defeats death.
    Biologists were familiar with this technical form of immortality when I was a medical student thirty years ago. Cell tissue from rats and chicks born at about that time is alive and healthy in laboratory tubes today. On the human scale of life, this tissue would be nearly a thousand years old. No one knows how far man can prolong his life.

     If medical research should ever find ways of doing for whole organisms what can even now be done for some tissues, then the world will be a different place entirely! Millions of people will live on year after year, century after century, accumulating wealth and experience

8. Simms, H. S.: quoted in British Medical Journal, 5 July, 1947, p.14 from the Journal of Gerontology, vol.1, 1946, p.24.
9. Simms, H. S.: quoted by Ernst LaFrance and Sid Ross, "Can We Live to be 120?", Magazine Digest, 1950, p.46.
10. Selyle, Hans, "Is Death Ineviatble?", MacLean's Magazine, 15 Aug., 1959, p.13.
11. On this see Hayflick's findings discussed in Note #123.

     pg.5 of 17     

and, hopefully, wisdom as well. The very fact of an enormously expanded time for the gathering of knowledge by each individual would certainly accelerate man's mastery over the forces of Nature -- if he does not simply destroy himself in the process. There is a sense in which we are witnessing this process of acceleration even today simply by the perfection of alternative means for rapid communication and dissemination of knowledge on a large scale. In the pre-Flood days of Noah, longevity enormously multiplied man's capacity for much the same reasons, but sadly increased his wickedness to a crucial point at the same time.
     In terms of his physical being, man might well turn out to be almost a different kind of creature. Dr. V. Korenchevsky of the Gerontological Research Unit, Oxford, in an address to a group organized for the first time specifically to do research on aging, held in July, 1946, at the Imperial College in London, remarked:

     The aim is not only a longer life but a stronger one -- to add life to years, not just years to life -- not only prevention of the premature appearance of senile decay but also elimination of those pathological features which are not necessarily associated with normal old age, since they are not present in some rare cases of less pronounced pathological aging.
     As ageing starts very early, actually with the normal process almost the whole of the span of human life will be changed, and therefore in some distant future man will probably become in some respects a different creature.

     Similarly, Professor J. B. S. Haldane, looking forward to the same prospect, foresaw that "man would develop slowly, continuing to learn up to maturity at 40 [sic!], then living several centuries. . . . He would be of high general intelligence by our standards, and most individuals would have some special aptitude to the degree we call genius." (13)
     That cells need never die has been known for a long time -- ever since microscopes allowed man to study the life cycle of unicellular creatures like the amoeba. These creatures have a life "cycle" only in the sense that they grow into two. They do not have a life cycle in the sense that they are born, mature, grow old and die. For they never die at all in the ordinary sense: that is to say, they are not subject to natural death. They only die accidentally. At maturity they divide into two so-called daughter-cells, passing on all their substance and leaving no corpse. It may be true that the original amoeba "disappears," but this is no more death than that the boy in becoming a man "dies" in so doing. The daughter-cells in turn mature to repeat the dividing process, and so on ad infinitum. They are, in the strictest sense, immortal.

12. Korenchevsky, V., "Conditions Desirablefor th Rapid Growth of Gerontological Research", British Medical Journal, 28 Sept., 1946, p. 468.
13. Haldane, J. B. S.: in Genetics, Paleontology and Evolution, Princeton University Bicentennial Conference (Series 2, Conference 3), 1946, p.26.

     pg.6 of 17     

     Amoeba are by no means the only unicellular organisms which enjoy immortality. Paramecia do also. One well known experiment conducted by L. L. Woodruff of Yale reveals what the potential of life is in this respect. In 1943 a culture of single-celled paramecia had completed its 37th year of continuous growth during which time it had passed through 20,000 generations. (14) If all the individuals produced had been allowed to live they would have covered the entire surface of the earth. It was estimated by Professor George A. Dorsey that at the time of the 10,000th generation, if each generation had equaled a human generation, Woodruff's original single paramecium would now be well over a quarter of a million years old; yet as he points out, it remains eternally young and shows no loss of virility. (15)

     And this brings us to an important matter of definition. By "immortality" biologists mean physical immortality, of course, not spiritual immortality. Moreover, they do not mean that an animal possessing immortality cannot die: they mean only that it NEED not die. Such creatures may be killed by poisoning, or dehydration, or starvation, or crushing, and so forth. But inherently and by nature they are quite capable of living on for ever and ever. This is what is meant in the present context and throughout the rest of this volume by the term immortality. The point is a very important one, both by reason of what it does mean and of what it does not mean. It does not mean they are beyond the power of death; and this is most fortunate for otherwise the surface of the earth would soon be yards deep in living tissue.
     Augustine, writing in the early part of the fifth century A.D., observed of Adam when he was first created that "it was not impossible for him to die but it was possible for him not to die." Or as he put it in the original, non imposse mori sed posse non mori.* His statement is precisely correct as a definition of immortality when used by biologists. It was not impossible for Adam to die, for by an act of disobedience in eating a forbidden fruit he evidently introduced into his body some toxic agent which upset its originally perfect balance and initiated, that day, a process of dying which was only completed centuries later. As we shall see, there are excellent reasons for believing that the Genesis record intends us to understand that if he had not disobeyed he would not have become subject to physical death. And Augustine's profound insight into Adam's position exactly expresses what the modern biologist means when he speaks of an animal as being immortal.

14. Woodruff, L. L.: noted by Florence Moog, "The Biology of Old Age", Scienctific American, June, 1948, p.41.
15. Dorsey, George A., Why We Behave Like Human Beings, Blue Ribbon Books, New York, 1925, p.105.
* Augustine: De Genesi ad Litteram, Book I, 25, note 35.

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     Now it is not merely that certain single-celled creatures have the gift of immortality, but even tissues composed of thousands of cells enjoy the same immortality if they are protected adequately. At the Rockefeller Institute in 1912 Alexis Carrel removed a bit of heart tissue and immersed it in a nutrient solution of food stuffs extracted from embryos. Trimmed back to size every so often and regularly provided with fresh nutrients, this tissue lived and grew until the experiment was terminated in 1946, forty-three years later. A chicken hatched in 1912 would have been dead by 1928 almost certainly, yet there is no reason to suppose that this little segment of heart tissue would ever have died if the equipment which sustained it in the laboratory had not failed and brought the experiment to an end.
      Whole organisms of quite complex structure and of large size may very well enjoy a similar immortality. Professor Raymond Pearl in his book The Biology of Death had no hesitation in asserting that "natural death is not the inevitable penalty of life."
(16) Even highly specialized cells are, he pointed out, "essentially immortal." And Professor H. J. Muller of the Department of Zoology, Indiana University, is perhaps even more explicit. He says, "Natural death is not the expression of an inherent principle of (functioning) protoplasm." (17) Similarly, T. Dobzhansky observed: "Life carries the potentiality of endless self-replication, but the realization of this potentiality is restricted by the resistance of the environment." (18)
      Dr. Paul A. Zahl, Associate Director of the Haskins Laboratories in New York City at the time of writing, said: (19)

     Senescence and death are by no means universal biological phenomena. . . .  Perennial organisms, for example, are not in fact subject to senescence and never wear down to natural expiration. This condition prevails presumably, because the body tissues of such organisms have not been specialized to the point where they have wholly lost their reproductive capacity. . . .  Among organisms of this class, life can be stopped (as it most often is) only by accident, attack by preying organisms, or severe environmental adversity.

     He concluded subsequently: "We may infer from the absence of inevitable death among the lower organisms that there is nothing in the fundamental nature of protoplasm that demands a wearing out [emphasis mine]. A man is protoplasm; a sequoia is protoplasm. One has a death-determined cycle; the other does not. A man is a mammal; so is a mouse. Yet one lives thirty times longer than the other." (20) But as Zahl has just finished demonstrating, size really has nothing to do with it. The rotifer lives only a few days; an amoeba, which is smaller, lives for ever. . . . An elephant (dying between 55 and 60 years of age), which is about sixty times the weight of a man,

16. Pearl, Raymond, The Biology of Death: Monographs on Experimental Biology, Lipppincott, Philadelphia, 1923, 275 pp., reviewed in British Medical Journal, 3 March, 1923, p.382
17. Muller, H. J., "Life", Science, vol.125, 1955, p.5
18. Dobzhansky, Theodosius, "Man Consorting with Things Eternal" in Science Ponders Religion, edited by Harlow Shapley, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1960, p.118.
19. Zahl, Paul A., "Need There Be Death?", a contribution in a report published by the New York Joint Legislative Committee on "Problems of the Aging", 1950, p.134.
20. Zahl, Paul A., ibid., p.135.

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is not as long lived as a man, while some fish, though lighter than man, may live much longer. A sturgeon caught in Lake of the Woods (Ontario, Canada) in 1954 was estimated by the Department of Lands and Forests to be 152 years old. This estimate was subsequently confirmed by microscopic analysis. (21)
    Now some of the living things which enjoy immortality, to which Zahl makes reference, belong within the plant kingdom, e.g., the sequoia. In 1938 Sir Julian Huxley published a series of short essays, one of which was titled "The Meaning of Death." In this essay he explored briefly the question of whether death is in any sense natural for living things. With respect to plant life, he wrote:

     We have records of trees of vast age and size, whose death seems only to have been due to accident, that is to say, to something in the external world and not in the tree itself, and therefore something that could be avoided . . . . There is nothing inherent in the tree itself which causes its death, merely the long-continued shocks and buffets of the world, preventable things one and all; by which I mean that if one could shelter the tree from storms, keep off its active enemies, and provide it with a reasonable amount of food, water and air, we must suppose that it would go on living forever.

     He then speaks of one particular tree in the Calcutta Botanical Gardens which has been sheltered artificially from at least some of these active enemies, and which shows every sign of continuing indefinitely. On this he comments: (23)

     Thus we have persuaded ourselves that a single individual can in some cases go on living indefinitely, and two pertinent questions arise and demand an answer.
     First, if functioning protoplasm is not, necessarily, subject to death, why did death appear? And secondly, granted that death must come for mankind, would it be possible in ourselves for instance to postpone its coming . . . for a short space, for a long space, or even for ever?

     So we are in effect on the edge of a whole new concept of what life is and of what death is. It is true that immortality appears to be reserved for lower forms of animal life and for plants, but the reasons for this limitation are being actively explored at the present time and there is no evidence to support the view that the basic nature of life in the higher organisms is in any fundamental way different. The programming of death into life below man by the Creator appears to be a deliberate arrangement for reasons which are becoming increasingly clear to biologists. Moreover, even now there are grounds for believing that some of the higher forms of life are only subject to

21. Sturgeon: Ontario Government Service Bulletin, 1 May, 1954.
22. Huxley, Sir Julian, "The Meaning of Death" in Essays on Popular Science, Penguin Books, London, 1938, p.105.
23. Huxley, Sir Julian, ibid., p.105.

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death by accident. This is probably true, for example, of fishes which may or may not have a pre-determined life span but which actually fail to achieve greater longevity only because the longer they live the greater are their chances of succumbing to predators. Sir Edwin Ray Lancaster, over eighty years ago, said, "Fish are not known to get feeble as they grow old and many fish are known not to get feebler." (24) Sir Peter Medawar comments on this acute observation: (25)

     Fish may be potentially immortal in the sense that they do not undergo an innate deterioration with aging, and yet the naturalists who ought to know about it simply can't be sure! Whether animals can, or cannot, reveal an innate deterioration with age is almost literally a domestic problem; the fact is that under the exactions of natural life they do not do so. They simply do not live that long. [Emphasis his]

     Many authorities support the view that fishes never die of old age, indeed do not age at all in the sense in which aging is applied to man. Dr. G. P. Bidder, in his Linnean Lecture on Aging in 1932, argued that fish continue to grow without limit and never undergo senescence nor suffer natural death. He stated that he could not remember any evidence of any marine animal dying a natural death. (26) Lincoln Barnett observed more recently: (27)

     Some biologists believe that for aquatic animals, liberated from the destructive power of gravity by the dense medium in which they dwell, growth, though it may slacken almost to cessation, never halts entirely. So long as they escape -- or are protected -- from the primitive dangers of the sea, fish may therefore continue to grow by simple enlargement year after year. And so long as they continue to grow, according to this theory, they do not grow old. For them there is no old age, only the violent death that lurks everywhere in the world of water.

     It may be observed that salmon age and die as part of the breeding cycle. This has the appearance of natural death in the sense that it is natural enough for the salmon. However, it may also be noted that a number of organisms which suffer death as a result of the activity of reproduction, do not die if this particular activity is prevented. This is apparently true of certain simple forms of life which have developed a mode of sexual reproduction; for example, the Infusoria. They normally multiply by a process of union with a mate which is called conjugation which seems to be in some way responsible for their subsequent dying. Sir Julian Huxley notes that if by feeding them on a special diet they can be induced to multiply without conjugation (an alternative method of reproduction of which they are capable), death is obviated. As he says, "Experiments of

24.Lancaster, Sir Edwin Ray: quoted by Alex Comfort in "The Biology of Old Age" in New Biology, vol.18, 1955, p.19 (published by Penguin Books).
25. Medawar, Sir Peter B., The Uniqueness of the Individual, Basic Books, New York, 1957, p.57.
26. Bidder, G. P., reported under "Senescence" in British Medical Journal, vol.2, 1932, p.583.
27. Barnett, Lincoln, The World We Live In, Time Inc., New York, 1955, p.150.

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this nature(discontinued only after hundreds of generations when it seemed clear they might go on forever) seemed to show that functioning protoplasm is not in itself mortal, but that the cause of death is to be found in the external conditions; for by altering these, death may be put off, it would seem, indefinitely." (28) Something of this kind could conceivably be true of salmon who otherwise provide us with a notable exception to what is observed elsewhere in marine life.
     So fish do die but, with the one notable exception which may not actually be an exception, fish do not appear to die a natural death. They become prey to predation or disease or accident of some kind. And as for land animals, both birds and mammals, Bidder put forward the theory that they die because of size limitations. If their cells went on multiplying without hindrance, their size would increase to the point where the animal could not navigate either on wings or feet. The limitations upon life on land or in the air have been thoroughly and intriguingly explored by a number of zoologists. The consequence is that the animal must collapse, as it were, by the very encumbrance of its own size.
(29) Where such animals (mammals included) are not embarrassed by the fact of weight per se, size limitations do not place the same constraints upon their continuance and accordingly they may live a lot longer. . . . Only accident and perhaps some functional limitations of a physiological nature operate here. Marine animals, like whales, fall within this category. The elephant, on land, may reach a weight of five tons and live possibly 55 or 60 years; whereas the whale reaching a weight of up to one hundred and fifty tons, or thirty times as much, may live between 65 and 70 years.

     There is a principle here that life is always associated with growth and that so long as an organism is growing it is not subject to natural death.
     It is quite conceivable that man himself, if he were to live on and on, might for the same reason be far larger in stature, if not giant in size . . . a fact which could shed light on certain statements in the early chapters of Genesis respecting the size of men at the time of the Flood and shortly after (Genesis 6:4). It does seem, however, that there must be some limitations for man on account of his upright posture, as ably pointed out by F. W. Went.
(30) It is conceivable that the growth factor in man might be asymptotic, i.e., steadily slowing up with age but continuous nevertheless. As Alex Comfort has pointed out, "All, or almost all, organisms grow more slowly the larger they get." (31) The consequences of such growth for man, if Adam had not lost for us our physical immortality, are explored in a later chapter.
     Even yet, man contains within himself some at least of the seeds of his pristine condition of immortality. Dr. Kenneth Walker has stated

28.Huxley, Sir Julian, "The Meaning of Death" in Essays on Popular Science, Penguin Books, London, 1938, p.104. Plants that die bearing one crop of seeds can, if kept under conditions that prevent flowering, be made to continue indefinitely in their vegetative form. Their life is extended probably without limit provided that the ageing effect of seed and flower production is prevented.
29. The factor of size is dealt with subsequently: See Notes, #128.
30. Went, F. W., :The Size of Man", American Scientisit, vol.56 (4), 1968, pp.400-413.
31. Comfort, Alex, "The Biology of Old Age" in New Biology, vol.18, 1955, p.18 (published by Penguin Books)

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this fact very effectively: (32)

     In the "theory of the continuity of the germplasm" published in 1885, Weismann showed that at a very early period the fertilized ovum (which later becomes the embryo) separates into two parts, a somatic part and what Weismann called the propagative part. The somatic half grows into the body of the individual, while the propagative half forms only the germinal epithelium or reproductive glands. A clear and very early division is therefore made between the cells which are to form the body and those highly specialized cells which become the sex glands and eventually give rise to the next generation. A man's body is doomed to die, but in a way, his reproductive cells are immortal .

     Although Weismann was writing so many years ago, and although certain of his conclusions are now considered questionable, his concept of the immortality of the germ plasm has stood the test of time. Weismann wrote: (33)

"Death", i.e., the end of life, is by no means, as is usually assumed, an attribute of all organisms. An immense number of protozoa do not die, although they are easily destroyed, being killed by heat, poisons, etc. As long, however, as the conditions which are necessary for their life are fulfilled they continue to live, and they thus carry the potentiality of unending life in themselves. . . .  Death is not an essential attribute of living matter.

     Subsequently Weismann developed his theme in the following way, allowing for some editing on my part: "Death is not, as has hitherto been assumed, an inevitable phenomenon essential to the very nature of life itself. Protozoa (the very lowest unicellular forms of life) are immortal. Metazoa (more complex than protozoa) have lost this power . . . in some of their cells, but not in all. The immortality of the protozoan organism has merely passed over to the ova or spermatozoa: the other cells (body cells) will die, and since the body of the individual is chiefly composed of them, it will die also." (34)
      Some pages later, after exploring the implication of what he calls "this division of labour," he observed: "This limitation (the surrender of immortality of the whole organism) went hand in hand with the differentiation of the cells of the organism into reproductive and somatic cells."
     I have already noted that Weismann's views, so lucidly expressed throughout his writings, have been challenged at one or two points in modern times. It may be well to state very briefly where the current disagreement exists. Weismann believed that all somatic or body cells had fully surrendered their immortality. It

32.Walker, Kenneth, Meaning and Purpose, Penguin Books, London, 1959, p.63.
33. Weismann, August, Essays Upon Heredity and Kindred Biological Problems, translated by E. B. Poulton, S. Schonland and A. E. Shipley, in 2 vols, Oxford, 1888, vol.1, p.25, 159.
34. Weismann, A., ibid., vol.1, p.111.
35. Weismann, A., ibid., p.158.

     pg.12 of 17     

is now known that in certain forms of life below man, body cells have not entirely lost their immortality, as we have already seen in the case of Alexis Carrel's chicken tissue culture. Even so, such cell cultures are highly artificial and would certainly not retain their immortality under natural conditions. There are one or two other rather complex aspects of current embryological doctrine which demonstrate Weismann to have been in error but they do not significantly challenge what has been quoted above and are rather too involved to introduce at this point.
     The substance of Weismann's view is simply that when the organization of the cells in more complex animal forms involved a division of labour, certain of these cells retained their original immortality but the majority of them did not. The loss of immortality by the majority of the cells in the animal led inevitably to the death of the animal as a whole. As a consequence most of the higher organisms are mortal, though some of their tissues can be shown under appropriate conditions of culture to be capable of living on almost indefinitely. It is the animal as a whole which has surrendered its immortality. The reason why this surrender has been built-in by the Creator will be considered subsequently in Chapter 8.
     In man, the situation is more complex. Some intrusive factor appears to be resident in the somatic or body cells which act upon the whole organism like a fatal disease. There are those who believe that this fatal disease or mortogenic ("death generating") factor will one day be identified and that, when it is, human life will be enormously extended, the individual then becoming subject to death only by accident.

     Formerly, it was customary to ask with Job, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14). Today, in the light of current knowledge, the question is being rephrased to read: "If a man lives, why should he ever die?" About all we can agree upon is that the great majority of living things (in terms of numbers of individuals) are not subject to death at all except by being killed, and of those animals below man which do appear to have a limited life span, the limitations are still for the most part due to external factors. Only man seems to have the limitations within himself, so that even barring fatal accidents, death would still occur for pathological reasons.

     pg.13 of 17   


123. (See p.5)     In recent years the concept of the inherent immortality of excised tissue in vitro has been challenged by the findings of Leonard Hayflick who reported that cells derived from human foetal lung tissue cultured under rigidly controlled conditions would survive only 50 + 10 doublings [Experimental Cell Research, vol.25, 1961, p.585]. These findings were reported in great detail and were confirmed by others later. (See also L. Hayflick, "The Limited in Vitro Lifetime of Human Diploid Cell Strains," Experimental Cell Research, vol.37, 1965, p.614-636.)
    In 1974 Hayflick contributed a paper under the title "Cytogerontology" in Theoretical Aspects of Aging in which he again summed up his findings to that date. In this same volume S. Gelfant and C. L. Grove wrote, with reference to Hayflick's findings: "These studies originally reported by Hayflick and Moorehead in 1961 showed that normal animal cells cannot be maintained in vitro indefinitely, but rather have a limited life span. The life span is expressed in the proliferative capacity of the cells in culture and it is also directly related to the age of the donor from which the cultured cells were taken. The maximum life span of human diploid cells in vitro is about ten months. This life span represents approximately 50 cell population doublings, and it applies to cells taken from the youngest possible tissue, that is, from foetal tissue. By comparison, shorter life spans and progressively fewer cell population doublings are observed in cultures originating from adult and old human tissue." [Theoretical Aspects of Aging, edited by M. Rockstein, New York, Academic Press. 1974, p.107, 108].
     David E. Harrison, on the basis of Hayflick's reported results, confidently asserted that "his work refuted the fifty-year-old dogma that normal cells could be immortal in tissue culture" [Letter to the Editor, Science, vol.192, 1976, p.614 under a heading "Hayflick's Achievements"]. Harrison clearly had in mind such experiments as those conducted by Alexis Carrel [Journal of Expimental Medicine, vol.15, 1912, p.516] and A. H. Ebeling [ibid., vol.17, 1913, p.273] in which chicken tissue cells were maintained for years until the experiment was terminated by failure of the equipment.
     It is important to note that Hayflick's experiments involved normal diploid cells. Under certain conditions of cell culture abnormal (heteroploid) cells may suddenly appear for some reason, and these cells are capable of maintaining their viability indefinitely.
     Hayflick is careful to note in his paper "Cytogerontology" that "the in vitro end point measured by us as loss of capacity for division is simply a very convenient and reproducible system, but may have little to do with the actual cause of in vivo aging" [in Theoretical Aspects of Aging, p 94].
     It should also be noted that Hayflick himself, in 1968. had reported:

     pg. 14 of 17    

     "Restudy of the experiments in culturing mouse cells has brought to light a highly interesting fact. It has been found that when normal cells from a laboratory mouse are cultured in a glass vessel, they frequently undergo a spontaneous transformation that enables them to divide and multiply indefinitely. This type of transformation takes place regularly in cultures of the fibroblasts (i.e. cells of connective tissue) of man and other animals. These transformed cell populations have several abnormal properties but they are truly immortal: many of the mouse derived cultures have survived for decades" ["Human Cells and Aging," Scientific American, Mar., 1968, p.32].

     There are therefore at least two possible explanations for Alexis Carrel's findings and for the findings of a number of others since: the culture medium may have contributed something to the extended survival of the cells which was lacking in Hayflick's experiments, or the cells themselves may have spontaneously transformed to an abnormal condition. It was for this reason that Hayflick later underscored that his cells were normal. He specifically states that they are not the same as the HeLa cells from cervical tissue which George O. Gey of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine had started with in 1952 and which were still growing and multiplying in glass cultures in 1968, and may even yet be flourishing. These exceptional cells did not have the usual 46 chromosomes of a normal human cell but anywhere from 50 to 350 per cell. They were cells that sometimes behaved like cancer cells and would form tumors when implanted in live animal tissue.
     Rona Cherry and Lawrence Cherry, under the heading "Uncovering the Secrets of a Longer Life," noted that while cells from fetuses died around the fiftieth division, cells from young adults divided about fifty times before dying, and those from mature adults only about twenty times [The New York Times Magazine, 12 May, 1974]. This circumstance seems a clear validation of Hayflick's findings that cells so cultured in vitro do have a limited life span.
     Accordingly, Hayflick considers that normal animal cells are programmed with a limited life. This may be true of animals by divine design, to prevent over-population. It may be true of human beings now because of the penalty imposed on man for his sin. It need not have been true of Adam as created.
     Paul T. Libassi notes that if Hayflick's experiments reflect aging in the whole organism, "man's biological clock is wound for about 110­115 years" [The Sciences, New York Academy of Sciences, vol.14, no.9, 1974, p.7]. This seems remarkably close to a statement made in Genesis 6:3 that after the Flood man's life span should not be allowed to exceed 120 years. To take the words to mean that God would grant the old world only 120 years of grace before the Flood would destroy it, is ­ in Kalisch's view ­ "utterly at variance with the context." Kalisch has a long note on this passage that pretty well covers (and invites rejection of) all the then current alternative interpretations [Historical and Critical Commentary on the Old Testament: Genesis, M. M. Kalisch, London, Longmans, 1858, p.175ff.].
     August Weismann, with extraordinary foresight, addressed the same question of whether there is really a limit placed upon

     pg.15 of 17     

cell multiplication many years ago when he wrote: "The hypothesis upon the origin and necessity of death leads me to believe that the organism did not finally cease to renew the worn-out cell-material because the nature of the cells did not permit them to multiply indefinitely, but because the power of multiplying indefinitely was lost when it ceased to be of use" [Essays Upon Heredity and Kindred Biological Problems, translated by E. B. Poulton, S. Schonland and A. E. Shipley, Oxford University Press, 1889, vol.1, p.25]. Unicellular forms seem to have no such limitations imposed upon them, so that the base of the food chain is virtually guaranteed so long as conditions that will support life are maintained.
     One criticism of Hayflick's experiment may have to do with the nature of the culture medium. In a special report under the title "Cellular Theorics of Senescence" [Science, vol.186,1975, p.1105, 1106], Jean L. Marx noted that "Lester Packer of the University of California, Berkeley, and James R. Smith of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Martinez, California, added vitamin E to cultured Wl-38 cells. These cells which they obtained from Hayflick are the same human embryonic cells that normally have an in vitro life span encompassing only about 50 divisions. But in the presence of vitamin E, an antioxidant that can interfere with reactions mediated by free radicals, the cells continued to divide and to have youthful characters for about 120 population doublings: after that they, too, became senescent and died out. Packer and Smith estimate that the concentration of the vitamin in the enriched culture medium is approximately the same as that in serum in vivo. Packer said that these results do not necessarily conflict with Hayflick's hypothesis that the cells have a built-in 'biological clock' that determines the number of population doublings. He thinks that they may have such a programmed potential but that it is not always attained. Addition of antioxidants to the (cell) environment may allow the cells to reach their full potential for dividing and thus achieving an apparently lengthened life span."
     Here, then, we have the same cells treated with a culture medium that more nearly approaches the medium in which cells would be bathed in a healthy body with a proper diet, living not for 50 doublings but for 120. If modern man has a life potential of, say 70 years, the new potential for cell population doublings should ideally give him a theoretical life span of approximately 170 years ­ which comes close to the Vilcabamba, Azerbaijan, etc. people. Moreover, it should be remembered that these cells are taken from human tissue of man as he now is, not as he once was in pre-Flood time ­ and certainly not as he was before he fell.
     Indeed, it now appears that the so-called "Hayflick limit" may, in a sense, be an artifact, that is to say, "the inevitable consequence of normal culturing procedures." It should in fact be quite possible to produce "an immortal steady state culture." Such a population "might be propagated indefinitely." [See R. Holliday, et al., "Testing the Commitment Theory of Cellular Aging," Science, vol.198, 1977, p.366f.]
     Even more recently, E. Bell and co-workers have questioned whether the Hayflick phenomenon is a sign of aging or whether it is not rather evidence of cell differentiation. They observe: "The notion that diploid cells age in vitro is based on the observation that they undergo only a limited number of population doublings. . . .  In this article we examine these assumptions and provide evidence for an alternative interpretation ­ namely, that cessation of proliferation of diploid cells . . . represents a step of differentiation and not one of senescence.
     Hayflick's technique of subculturing is seen to be an "upsetting" factor in cell culture which "forces" the cells to "exchange immortality for specialization." They conclude that "cells of organisms need not be programmed intrinsically to die." ["Loss of Division Potential in Vitro: Aging or Differentiation?", Science, vol.202,1979, p.1158­1163].

     pg.16 of 17    

128. (See p.11)     Size:  see an excellent discussion of this point by J.B.S.Haldane, "On Being the Right Size" in The World of Mathematics, ed. J.R. Newman, N.Y., Simon & Schuster, 1956, Vol. II, p.952 ff.  In this connection with man, see a valuable paper by F.W. Went, "The Size of Man," Amer. Scientist, 56, 4, 1968, p.400-413.  See also T. McMahon, "Size and Shape in Biology," Science, 179, 1973, p.1201 ff.  I have a copy of a diary kept by a Parson for forty years in the later half of the eighteenth century.  He tells how he went to see, in Norwich (England), a giant pig which was nine feet long and four feet high!  He observes as a by-the-bye that it had to be supported on its legs and when it fell over was unable to raise itself [Woodforde, James, Diary of a Country Parson, ed. John Beresford, Oxford, 1926, in 5 vols., Vol. I, p.245].

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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