Objections To Healthy Life Extension

Slashdot noted some predictions and thoughts on nanomedicine and healthy life extension today (cribbing from a Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends post). I've mentioned nanomedicine a number of times before here - it is an important technology that will improve upon what we can do with regenerative medicine. If you're interested in learning more, then Robert Freitas' work is a good place to start reading.

What bothers me about the slashdot piece is that all the common, old, Malthusian objections show up in the comments; posters objecting to saving lives because of speculative overpopulation concerns, or that the social security system will break, or other extensively debunked issues. For example:

Aren't people forgetting the social problems? Its like what the mathmatician said in Jurrasic Park: "They were so busy trying to see if they could, they didn't stop and think if they should" (or something to that effect). So if we have a generation (or two) of people living longer, what happens to Social Security? Or housing? Or land prices? Or the environment? Or heck lots and lots of other very limited resources! Would I take one of these pills if it was offered to me for $1k? Damn straight I would, but there are so many issues that I shudder at the effects this will have ~100 years down the road.

The other most common objection people voice to healthy life extension - the Tithonus Error - is also voiced:

You'll be a 200-year-old, withered, repulsive, barely-coherent husk of a human being... but dammit, you'll be healthy!

Extended longevity means extended healthy life span, not more years of increasing infirmity. You would never be old for longer - you would be healthy and in the prime of your life for longer. Hopefully for as long as you choose, if medical research proceeds rapidly enough.

Thankfully at least a few of the commentators get it:

And then the ethical problems. If you save lives (and don't tell me that curing heart attacks, diabetes, and cancer won't save lives), is it ethical to not do so? Is it better to watch them die, knowing that you could have helped, but didn't just so that you could get your social security check?

To quote someone much smarter than I: If science is the source of problems, ignorance is not the solution.

Short of continuing to plug away at education, how do we ensure that most people understand that Malthusianism of all sorts is simply wrong? Resources are never fixed, and nor are the ways in which we use them. We humans continue to produce more resources, and make better use of existing resources, all the time through our advancing technology and knowledge of the world.

I do think we are making progress - after all, a number of sensible rebuttals to the negativity and Malthusianism do show up in the Slashdot postings - but it is always dispiriting to see so many people willing to force everyone to suffer and die because of fundamental misunderstandings about the way in which the world works.


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