Of late, I have started to explore the idea that present day opposition to serious anti-aging research (as led by Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama and others) will lead to legislation blocking or limiting our access to healthy life extension technologies.
Politicians - even in comparatively free countries like the US - already exert a great deal of control over access to medicine, what you can and can't do with your body, and what medical research is permitted. Unfortunately, this power is already being abused - as power always is - in many areas, including stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. It is a small leap from the present day functions of the FDA to a body that sets maximum life spans by enforcing restrictions on new anti-aging medical technologies.
George Dvorsky has written an excellent article on this topic that is currently posted at Betterhumans. I quote a fair amount in this post, but there is a good deal more where that came from - so read the whole thing.
So as the prospect of radical life extension becomes more real with each passing year, prominent bio-Luddites have gone on the offensive to convince immortal wannabes that death is where it's at.
They speak in a flowery and comforting tone, proclaiming that death defines our species and endows our lives with meaning, purpose and social stability.
The most outspoken of these thanatophiles are, of course, Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama, both of whom sit on the President's Council on Bioethics in the US. They're not alone, however, and can count a number of bioconservatives—including Charles Krauthammer and Bill McKibbin—on their side.
William Hurlbut, also of the Bioethics Council, has also spoken out recently against increasing the healthy human life span. George Dvorsky echoes my concerns regarding the future of pro-death bioethics:
I consider myself open to ideas and alternative perspectives, but as I consider the arguments of the bio-Luddites and look deeper into their meaning, I have come to realize that the death-promoting propaganda campaign is more than just a battle for hearts and minds. I get the impression that - should radical life extension technologies become readily available - these detractors, some of whom have the ear of the President, would go much further than fighting a war of words in their attempt to ensure that we never gain mastery over our mortality.
At times the bio-Luddites sound parochial and authoritarian, and at their worst they sound downright ideological and even totalitarian.
Indeed, as Kass has repeatedly stated, "the finitude of human life is a blessing for every individual, whether he knows it or not." And frighteningly, when asked by Brian Alexander, the author of Rapture: How Biotechnology Became the New Religion, if the government has a right to tell its citizens that they have to die, Fukuyama answered, "Yes, absolutely."
Is it just me, or do all of these people - who make policy recommendations and are appointed members of an organization used to justify restrictive govenment policies on medical research - start to sound very scary when you look closely at what they are actually saying?
George Dvorsky believes that the march of science towards serious anti-aging medicine of the sort proposed by Aubrey de Grey is, ultimately, unstoppable. Healthy life extension is simply too desirable to too many people, and scientific development - on the largest scales and over decades of time - follows the will of the people. Minorities in positions of power can greatly slow and damage this progress, however:
It'll only be a matter of time before these researchers make greater and greater strides in their work, resulting in a steady flow of life extension interventions destined for the market. The human lifespan will become increasingly longer and longer, and every year of extra life will bring people closer to the next antiaging intervention.
Unless, of course, drastic measures are put in place to prevent this from happening. Similar to the current War on Drugs, it's conceivable that a bioconservative government could impose a War on Life, fighting against life extension research and related technologies. Scientific research would be closely monitored and regulated, with scientists being forced to work within state-sanctioned guidelines.
This is not as farfetched as it might sound. Current governments in both the US and Canada, for example, have enacted extremely stringent policies in regards to stem cell and cloning research. The US in particular currently boasts one of the most anti-science regimes in all of its history. Given the prominence of religious and Luddite forces, combined with a mostly scientifically illiterate and politically challenged populace, the US government may continue this regressive policy as human enhancement technologies increasingly come info focus and into practical use.
As I have long been saying, it wouldn't take too many decades of repressive government policy to prevent everyone reading this article from ever seeing the fruits of real anti-aging research. How do you feel about these groups that are working to deny you, I, and everyone else the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives? Think about that today - because making a better future, one free of age-related disease and the slow death of failing bodies, will take all of us working together. If we don't speak out, our rights will be trampled.
George Dvorsky concludes with these thoughts:
And as for the bio-Luddite deathists, they're offering Americans the worst and most useless kind of ethics. It is an ethics without foundation in reality and devoid of pragmatic guidance and practical solutions. It simply doesn't do for the coming realities of 21st century life.
Consequently, the pro-death rhetoric is only resulting in a confused and scared populace, backwards and stifling legislation and a depraved indifference to the 50 million lives lost each year. And since the members of the US President's Council on Bioethics recognize the scientific plausibility of negligible senescence, their systematic curtailment and prevention of life extension research could be construed someday as a crime against humanity.
Don't believe their hype. Fight for your right to live.
I couldn't agree more, and it's a great shame that the field once known as medical ethics has degenerated into a coven of high profile bioethicists set on finding the best way to prevent new medicines from saving lives.
Squashing the opposition to serious anti-aging medical research will require supporters of healthy life extension to start our side of the coming battle early. We can't afford to wait for entrenched pro-death bioethicists to gain even greater influence over our overbearing, winner-takes-all governments.