From the Camp of Suffering and Death

Leon Kass, advocate for suffering, death and mysticism, a good example of the worst of modern bioethics, is still turning out material in opposition to healthy life extension, it seems. Fortunately, he's no longer heading up the President's Council on Bioethics - although what's left is just as bad, frankly. There Kass is, however, plugging away at the idea that it's a wonderful thing to suffer, decay and die in pain. From the article:

First, medical progress often leads to greater debility in later years even as - and precisely because - it cures deadly diseases at earlier ages. This is the paradox of modern aging: we are vigorous longer and we are incapacitated longer. To be sure, no one wants to turn back the clock to a time when mothers and children died regularly in childbirth, when infectious diseases decimated helpless communities, when heart disease was largely undiagnosed and untreated, and when a diagnosis of cancer meant swift and certain death. But severing medicine's sweetest fruits from its sourest consequences may prove impossible.

Note the sneaking in of a form of the Tithonus error here - it's certainly not true that medical progress leads to greater debility in later life for you and I. In fact, studies show quite the opposite effect.

Second, to see medical progress as a "cost saver" is simplistic at best. Medical care is more expensive than ever precisely because we can do so much more to diagnose and treat disease, and Medicare and Medicaid are costlier because more people are living longer. Even if curing today's diseases becomes less expensive over time, no one knows the cost of dealing with the diseases that will replace them. Only if people live free of illness to the very end and then die suddenly will medical progress really result in cheaper medicine. Otherwise, it will continue to purchase greater longevity and better health at an increased overall expense.

This is nonsense, conflated with socialist nonsense - a classic example of the way in which centralized systems turn opportunities into problems. Being alive has a cost, dependent on circumstance, and technological progress acts to bring that cost down. Being alive means that you can work to create wealth, and thus pay your way and save for the future. For those of us for whom being alive holds a certain attraction, it's all a matter of working towards technological progress, thus bringing the costs of remaining alive down to a manageable level. That living longer costs more should raise no eyebrows. In a free market for healthcare, this would be a state of dynamic growth and optimism - all those people living longer, earning more, spending more, and taking responsibility for their own finances and purchases ... no different than any other aspect of life. For some reason, pundits who romanticise the horrors of aging and the destructive effects of big, centralized government programs just can't see it that way.

None of this implies ingratitude for the blessings of medical progress - including current research aimed at curing age-related diseases like Alzheimer's. But in fueling our love of youthfulness and limitless life, and our hatred of senescence and decline, the campaign for healthy aging also subtly encourages us to devalue the need to give care and comfort to those we cannot cure.

Here we have the projection of unsavory values from a pundit upon the world. From where I stand, healthy life extension advocates are working towards the defeat of age-related degeneration as much for others as themselves. Just take a look at the dedications by MPrize donors, or the In Memoriam donations. The ultimate expression of solidarity for those who will die before real anti-aging medicines arrive is the support given by the healthy life extension community to cryonics organizations.

Kass has a deep and abiding romance with death and aging, a state of mind that apparently blinds him to the very real suffering and very real tragedy of 100,000 lives lost to aging every day. Every day! Why else would he advocate government restrictions on research that could help people lead longer, healthier lives? Kass reaches for whatever arguments he can muster to support his romance; sense and truth fall beside the way. Once you point out the flaws in the three quoted paragraphs above, the entire essay falls apart.

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Wow, that article is fallacious and unethical on so many levels.

Posted by: ND at January 4th, 2006 11:54 PM

If I can be so bold as to speculate... the real enemy may be something else. Imagine a world with a lot lower percentage of young people. Right now young people do the bulk of the work. They have a lower sense of self, a more malleable ego and are not that aware of the world yet. The young assume it is normal they have to work for a lower minimum wage.

Now imagine the percentage of young dropping off fast through rejuvenation treatments. Suddenly those with money find themselves having to compete for a smaller slice of young and eager people to hire.

What's at work here is wage costs and docility. If there is one consistent it is that the NeoCon administration will do anything to keep the middle and lower classes docile, wages low, worker conditions unfavorable and police control and status quo strong. I see a direct link between the ideas of Leon Kass and the agenda of neoconservatism.

However just wait until robots and nanofactories flood the modern & developed world. In a decade robotics of all kinds will annihilate a whole lot of these lower paid jobs. Millions will become unemployed, not least of all a whole lot of older people who can't compete.

Those in power will try to cling to that power but trying to keep on minimalizing wellfare, but millions of unemployed will have a very strong effect on politics. And if life extension emerges around that time (a few decades) this world will see some massive demographic and economical shifts.

Posted by: dagon at June 20th, 2006 4:21 AM

You make it sound so gloomy with your candle maker fallacy there.'_petition

All this change in job distribution has happened before a number of times - most people used to work in agricultural menial labor, for example. And what about all those candlemakers and pinmakers? Was there a sudden crash in civilization and hordes of unemployed when advancing technology enabled the same jobs to be done by a fraction of the people? Of course not - and there won't be with further robotic automation either. The effects of technological progress mean that the type of work people do changes, not that suddenly no-one can work. If there are more healthy old people, there will be more healthy old people working.

Posted by: Reason at June 20th, 2006 8:27 AM

You compare menial labor to thinking labor, what robots and AI stand to replace. So what happens when this old form of candle making no longer requires humans? Who will lite your candle, in the new politics that we adapt to, once relatively few people shape the actions of the many machines that enlighten us? I suppose you think it will be you. Enlighten me why my work for you will serve me well.

Posted by: Noah at February 9th, 2007 1:57 AM
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