Government Mandated Upper Limits To Life Span?

Government mandated limits to life span: it's an ugly idea, frequently explored in Science Fiction. Is it likely to happen in the real world, however? Worse things have been done to people in the name of law and government in the past, even in the recent past. If you live in a developed country, the chances are that government employees already have a great deal of control over your life span: your opinions on the matter are usually irrelevant.

For example, it is extremely difficult to choose the time and method of your own death, even under the most compelling circumstances. Assisted suicide is illegal in many countries, leaving terminal stage patients - who often endure intolerable pain and loss of dignity - with no options other than to suffer. Cryonics patients often want to die in a time and manner of their choosing, in order to best preserve their brain for cryosuspension. The US legal system prevented a patient with a terminal brain tumor from being cryosuspended before the tumor could damage his brain beyond repair. I am at a loss to explain why courts, laws, and plain old other people should have any say in these matters. If you don't own your body and your life, what do you own?

It is unfortunate that we live in a society in which people serve laws, as opposed to the other way around.

The concept of legislation to set upper limits on life span is something of a bottom line for many of the debates taking place around the world on policy, aging, increasing life spans, and biotechnology. I don't see a Logan's Run scenario materializing for 80 year olds any time soon - although, as I mentioned, far worse has been done in the name of government in past decades - but doesn't a ban on healthy life extension technology amount to the same thing?

Currently, the best hopes for greatly extending the healthy human life span in the near future revolve around stem cell research and related fields. It looks very likely that most of the degenerative conditions of aging can be repaired using stem cell therapies - many impressive results have already have been attained in the lab or early human trials. As you may have noticed, however, national legislators in much of the Western world have been attempting to ban both the research and its applications. There have even been attempts to force a worldwide ban on therapeutic cloning at the UN. (Therapeutic cloning, or SCNT, is a vital technology for this research).

Banning the tools of regenerative medicine looks - to me - fairly close to declaring and enforcing an upper age limit for the next few decades. Killing people, in other words. Actively foiling the attempts of a dying man to pay for a cure is murder, no different than using poison to achieve the same end.

Too many people - like Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama, et al - are arguing that healthy life extension should not happen, or that legislation should be used to prevent the necessary medical technology from being developed. I think that the Kasses of this world need to be directly challenged. We should demand answers: do they support mandated and enforced upper limits on life span? Do they support state-sanctioned murder to achieve these ends? From where I'm standing, it certainly sounds like they do.

The next time you listen to a debate over aging policy, regenerative medicine, or stem cell research, take a closer look at what these politicians and pundits are implying - and challenge them on it.


Government policies to require and compell premature death upon older citizens. We are already there. Public health serve the need of the institution, not the patient. Public health care is first of all procrastination by health care providers. I hear a constant litany of diet and exercise, which does not work. Keeps me in constant physical pain. The state I am in averages spending $500.00 a month for health care for me, and ten dollars a month in food stamps. How is my health going to get better if all I can afford is cheap starch? I am the 'surplus population' and government policies want me to hurry up and die off so they will not have to spend money on my health care.

Posted by: George Smith at July 9th, 2004 6:03 PM

George brings up a good point... one should really abandon the concept that government is designed by default to serve the greater good; more often than not it is designed to serve the needs of politicians or their patrons/masters.

One idea that would help catalyze acceptance of stem cell research is to convey its benefits from a militaristic perspective. Aging threatens a nation's interests just as effectively as a foreign power marching in and pirating its natural resources or sabotaging its economy.

No sensible nation would stand by and allow itself to be undermined that way. But many are, allowing the natural passions and prejudices of special interest groups to lead them to destruction. Perhaps its time for every country, every people to recognize this and honestly question the patriotism of those who would seek to impose their limited vision upon them.

Posted by: Michael Yamashita at October 18th, 2004 8:29 AM

I feel really bad for George, when I see the plights related to medicine happening to senior folks, it makes me not want to rely on stipends, but to invest or whatever. Too many people are just 'getting by', which works, but not when you're older and can do less and need more health care to get by. We need to overcompensate in our youth while we can.

Posted by: Tyciol at July 5th, 2007 11:27 AM

Fortunately, government suffers from several flaws in its ability to be perniciously Machiavellian:

1) People are ornery and they will disobey government, particularly in pursuit of their individual survival and the survival of their loved ones.
2) There is not now and will never be one all-powerful world government. This is because humanity is not homogeneous but is composed of fuzzy-bordered sub-groups of people who have inherently incompatible self-interest in use of territory and resources. If there ever is what appears to be an all-powerful world government, its half-life will be quite brief. The stresses of conflicting interests will tear it apart.
3) Governments' regulatory philosophies are like many retail stores competing to sell clothing, only governments are competing to sell ideas. Ideas migrate to where they can find a home. When one shop specializes in prom dresses and one shop specializes in suits, it's not long before a Hot Topic opens and Dick's Sporting Goods shows up to sell workout clothes. And they couldn't stamp out Plato's Closet and Goodwill if they tried.
4) People with money, and people's money, gravitates to the shop that's selling what they want to buy.
5) You can't put the genie back in the bottle.

I'm not saying we don't need to fight to keep our local Meme Shop (government) stocking the Memes we want on the shelves. We need to fight like hell to keep the merchandise we want on the shelves in the local shop where it's convenient to us, personally, to obtain the benefits of those memes. (Human Freedom. My favorite meme.)

I'm saying that whether it's on the shelves in our neighborhood store or not, it's destined to be on the shelves somewhere. The genies--the memes that human freedom and lifespan research are good things--are already out of the bottle.

Posted by: JulieC at February 21st, 2013 9:25 AM
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