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.