Want To Live Longer? Consider The Ethics


Published:

Telomeres, a part of DNA that hold the key to biological aging.

Life extension – using science to slow or halt human aging so that people live far longer than they do naturally – may one day be possible.

Big business is taking this possibility seriously. In 2013 Google founded a company called Calico to develop life extension methods, and Silicon Valley billionaires Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel have invested in Unity Biotechnology, which has a market cap of US$700 million. Unity Biotechnology focuses mainly on preventing age-related diseases, but its research could lead to methods for slowing or preventing aging itself.

From my perspective as a philosopher, this poses two ethical questions. First, is extended life good? Second, could extending life harm others?

Is Living Forever A Good Thing?

Not everyone is convinced that extending life would be good. In a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life project, some respondents worried that it might become boring, or that they would miss out on the benefits of growing old, such as gaining wisdom and learning to accept death.

Philosophers such as Bernard Williams have shared this concern. In 1973 Williams argued that immortality would become intolerably boring if one never changed. He also argued that, if people changed enough to avoid intolerable boredom, they would eventually change so much that they’d be entirely different people.

On the other hand, not everyone is persuaded that extended life would be a bad life. I’m not. But that’s not the point. No one is proposing to force anyone to use life extension, and – out of respect for liberty – no one should be prevented from using it.

Nineteenth-century philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that society must respect individual liberty when it comes to deciding what’s good for us. In other words, it’s wrong to interfere with someone’s life choices even when he or she makes bad choices.

However, Mill also held that our liberty right is limited by the “harm principle.” The harm principle says that the right to individual liberty is limited by a duty not to harm others.

There are many possible harms: Dictators might live far too long, society might become too conservative and risk-averse and pensions might have to be limited, to name a few. One that stands out to me is the injustice of unequal access.

What does unequal access looks like when it comes to life extension?

Available Only To The Rich?

Many people, such as philosopher John Harris and those in the Pew Center survey, worry that life extension would be available only to the rich and make existing inequalities even worse.

Indeed, it is unjust when some people live longer than the poor because they have better health care. It would be far more unjust if the rich could live several decades or centuries longer than anyone else and gain more time to consolidate their advantages.

Some philosophers suggest that society should prevent inequality by banning life extension. This is equality by denial – if not everyone can get it, then no one gets it.

However, as philosopher Richard J. Arneson notes, “leveling-down” – achieving equality by making some people worse off without making anyone better off – is unjust.

Indeed, as I argue in my recent book on life extension ethics, most of us reject leveling-down in other situations. For example, there are not enough human organs for transplant, but no one thinks the answer is to ban organ transplants.

Moreover, banning or slowing down the development of life extension may simply delay a time when the technology gets cheap enough for everyone to have it. TV sets were once a toy for the wealthy; now even poor families have them. In time, this could happen with life extension.

Justice requires that society subsidize access to life extension to the extent it can afford to do so. However, justice does not require banning life extension just because it’s not possible to give it to everyone.

Overpopulation Crisis?

Another possible harm is that the world will become overcrowded. Many people, including philosophers Peter Singer and Walter Glannon, are concerned that extending human life would cause severe overpopulation, pollution and resource shortages.

One way to prevent this harm, as some philosophers have proposed, is to limit the number of children after life extension.

This would be politically very difficult and very hard on those who want longer lives, but trying to ban life extension would be equally difficult, and denying people longer lives would be just as hard on them – if not more so. Limiting reproduction, as hard as that may be, is a better way to follow the harm principle.

Will Death Be Worse?

Another possible harm is that widespread life extension might make death worse for some people.

All else being equal, it is better to die at 90 than nine. At 90 you’re not missing out on many years, but at nine you lose most of your potential life. As philosopher Jeff McMahan argues, death is worse the more years it takes from you.

Now imagine that people living in a far wealthier neighborhood don’t have to die at 90 or so. They can afford life extension, and will live to 190. You can’t afford it, and you are dying at 80. Is your death not so bad, for you’re losing only a few years, or is your death now far worse, because – if only you had life extension – you might live to 190? Are you losing 10 years, or are you losing 110 years?

In a world where some people get life extension and some don’t, what’s the right measure for how many years death takes from you?

Perhaps the right measure is how many years life extension would give you, multiplied by the odds of getting it. For example, if you have a 20 percent chance of getting 100 years, then your death is worse by however many years you’d get in a normal lifespan, plus 20 years.

If so, then the fact that some people can get life extension makes your death somewhat worse. This is a more subtle kind of harm than living in an overpopulated world, but it’s a harm all the same.

However, not just any harm is enough to outweigh liberty. After all, expensive new medical treatments can extend a normal lifespan, but even if that makes death slightly worse for those who can’t afford those treatments, no one thinks such treatments should be banned.

I believe that life extension is a good thing, but it does pose threats to society that must be taken seriously.The Conversation

As a professor of philosophy, John K. Davis has taught bioethics and normative theory at California State University, Fullerton, for 11 years. He has published widely in bioethics, and his first teaching job was assistant professor of medical humanities at the Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

See also:
Choosing Childlessness With Life In Mind: A Private Decision With Global Consequences
EarthTalk: Is Human Overpopulation On the Decline?

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

January 22, 2020

Mixed trends build safety and stability in some instances and create chaotic turmoil in others. The Capricorn Moon helps make visionary ideas and solutions available during the early morning hours. Pay close attention to your first waking…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2020

Saturday January 18th, 2020 from 10:30-4pm and Sunday January 19th, 2020 from 10:30-4pm In Reiki Master Level you will learn the master symbols, receive the master level attunement and learn how...

Cost: $295 for new students, $195 for the refresher option

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough Shopping Center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Join us and connect to the powerful energies of the bird kingdom. Throughout earth history, birds have been thought to be divine messengers. Many spiritual systems believe they are emissaries of...

Cost: $95

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack St
Methuen, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: front desk
Website »

More information

Your soul has already seeded your existence with all that is needed to completely express your destiny. Let the Miracle Mantra awaken you to the awareness of spirit ever present in your...

Cost: Suggested Donation: $20

Where:
Yoga At The Ashram
368 Village Street
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Sponsor: Yoga at the Ashram
Telephone: 508-376-4525
Website »

More information

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

January 19th, February 16th, March 8th by appointment only. Kinetic Chain Release (KCR) to balance body, resolve leg length discrepancies, reduce back, shoulder, knee, hip pain and reduce stress...

Cost: $65 to $145

Where:
Leapin' Lizards
449 Forest Ave
Portland, ME  04101
View map »


Sponsor: Leapin' Lizards
Telephone: 207-221-2363
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Discover Beauty. Discover Goodness. Discover Yourself. Your soul’s gifts are waiting. Breathe. Find stillness. The spark you need to ignite your life is here, within. Max Meditation...

Cost: $15

Where:
Modern Mystery School Boston
132 Charles St
3rd Floor
Auburndale, MA  02466
View map »


Sponsor: Modern Mystery School Boston
Telephone: 617-694-0994
Contact Name: Jordan Bain
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Total Life Group Cleanse begins with Jonathan Glass, Ayurvedic practitioner Includes the following three Tuesdays. A 28-day program designed to initiate and maximize detoxification and...

Where:
Concord, MA


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Are you considering, going through or recovering from divorce? Join us at our free Daytime Divorce Boot Camp, and we’ll help you get into shape! In response to requests from people who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation
180 Wells Avenue
Suite 300
Newton, MA  02459
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Do you have questions about the legal process of divorce? Join us at our free informative workshop in Hingham, MA! About this event: David Kellem, experienced Family Law Attorney &...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kellem Mahoney Family Law & Mediation Group
100 Recreation Park Drive
Suite 201
Hingham, MA  02043
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Are you ready to permanently up-level your life? Are you ready close the gap between where you are today and your higher purpose? Are you ready to take a definitive step toward healing the...

Cost: $15

Where:
Modern Mystery School Boston
132 Charles St
3rd Floor
Auburndale, MA  02466
View map »


Sponsor: Modern Mystery School Boston
Telephone: 617-694-0994
Contact Name: Jordan Bain
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Join us at Vesta’s One-Day Divorce Retreat in Newton, MA! In just one day... you will come away with valuable knowledge about the issues associated with separation and divorce,...

Cost: $149

Where:
Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation
180 Wells Avenue
Suite 300
Newton, MA  02459
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

January is the time of the year when we look ahead to the year in front of us and imagine it to be better than the one we are leaving behind. We often make the New Years resolution in January and...

Cost: $108 before Jan 20 ($120 after)

Where:
Unity Farm Sanctuary
17 Unity Lane
Westborough Shopping Center
Sherborn, MA  01770
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

This is a free and mandatory orientation prior to registering for the 8 week group program of mindfulness based stress reduction or MBSR. Please RSVP so we can plan accordingly....

Cost: Free

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough Shopping Center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

This class will teach you how to make your own intricate wire-wrapped gemstone pendant, expanding on the basics from the introductory Level 1 class that has been taught previously. This class if...

Cost: Reg includes supplies $60 per person or $50 more than one

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd, Unit A
Our Yellow Banner is in Window w/Fairy Lights Please remove shoes at the door
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

We will be sitting in the New Moon Energy and The Energy and Consciousness of the Chinese New Year.  Stacey and Bob will be doing an energetic transmission with Energies and Stones...

Cost: Class: $30, Online Reg. $25

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd, Unit A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

Next Class Starts January 25, 2020 You will learn: How to hypnotize How to use hypnosis to help clients make personal changes How to turn hypnosis into a profitable part-time or...

Where:
, RI


Telephone: 401-374-1890
Website »

More information

January 25–April 26, 2020 Now offered in one day and weekend modules that can be taken individually or consecutively.  Dates and individual class links are listed below. All...

Cost: $1360

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, #1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags