Appleyard ponders the cultural impact of extended lifespans:

Ultimately, the pursuit of life extension or medical immortality is a continuation of the ancient pursuit of the conquest of death, either by giving it meaning or by survival in this life or some other. It is the scientific version of the oldest human aspiration, which is either to evade oblivion or to embrace it with the consolatory knowledge that one's life has acquired significance.

Shakespeare, as usual, found the single exact word to capture what is at stake here. The word is 'owe'. Feeble in Henry V says 'we owe God a death'. For Feeble, to be born is to be indebted. Our death settles the account. This feels like a profoundly true statement. I shall now try to work out why it is. Or why it isn't.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.