Attitudes of Aging Researchers To Healthy Life Extension

I missed a social interest paper from earlier this year, in which gerontologists were questioned on their views of healthy life extension and longevity science. The abstract is a fair summary of what I've seen of ongoing debates on the subject:

It is often assumed that there is broad public support for strong life extension research (i.e. research aimed at the dramatic extension of human life beyond the current maximum), and that there would be a near universal interest in using any life extending technologies that this research may produce.

In this paper we report the opinions of researchers in ageing on the controversial promise of life extension, and compare these views. This paper describes the professional attitudes, personal interest and concerns expressed by Australian and international researchers in ageing (n = 14) as expressed during semi-structured, in-depth interviews.

Researchers held varying opinions about the possibility of significantly extending human life. Some saw a limit to the extension of human life, while others did not. Some felt that research into the fundamental ageing process was a priority; others did not. Researchers tended to weigh up the potential risks and benefits of life extension with most expressing a personal interest in life extension that was contingent on the technology providing a good quality of life. Some participants were not interested in the prospect of life extension for personal reasons, because they felt the potential risks outweighed the potential benefits, or because life extension raised issues of justice and equity.

Compare this with another social science paper from earlier this year that investigates attitudes in the general populace. The results are very similar. On the one hand, it's good to see more researchers publicly expressing positive attitudes towards healthy life extension - that hasn't always been the case. But as always, those of us interested in living longer, healthier lives through science should be concerned that a good fraction of the aging research community - the people best placed to work on the fundamentals of future longevity therapies - is not all that interested in getting the job done.

"Justice and equity" in particular is a poisonous ideal when you attempt to bring it into the real world:

I find it very strange that apparently intelligent people can field this sort of argument. Replace working anti-aging medicine with, say, working heart transplants, or working kidney dialysis and see how far you get in trying to convince people that suppliers in the developed world are keeping such technologies out of the hands of others, or that we must stop using medicine that is not universally available. Quite aside from the glaring failure to understand simple economics, it is deeply depressing that we live in a world in which people argue for the enforcement of large-scale, preventable suffering and death.

Life is unfair, make no mistake. People are unequal in opportunity, capacity and the hand they were dealt at birth. To think that this truth can be removed in any way, shape or form is to betray a profound ignorance of economics and the human condition. You cannot make life better at the bottom by tearing down the top; the top is where progress happens, progress that lifts the quality of life for everyone. Punishing success in order to reward failure has predictable results - more failure and less success. The wealthy of 1950 were far worse off than the poor of today precisely because progress brings economic rewards to the successful.

The work of advocacy for longevity research is as much focused on those within the scientific community as it is on the general public. Not to convince everyone to walk in step, but to at least create a sizeable community of enthusiastic scientists - large enough to get the work done, and to sway conservative regulatory and grant organizations into ceasing their discrimination against this body of research.

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