The Case for Enhancing People

From the New Atlantis, a tour of some of the disturbing views of those who are opposed to enhanced longevity, and in favor of government force used to set limits to life: "Age-retardation technologies are the 'killer app' (so to speak) of enhancements - so deeply and self-evidently appealing that they would seem to sell the whole project of enhancement on their own. Nonetheless, there are those who oppose them. For example, Leon Kass, the former chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics (PCBE) under President Bush, has asserted, 'the finitude of human life is a blessing for every individual, whether he knows it or not.' And Daniel Callahan, co-founder of the Hastings Center, has declared, 'There is no known social good coming from the conquest of death.' Callahan added, 'The worst possible way to resolve [the question of life extension] is to leave it up to individual choice.' When asked if the government has a right to tell its citizens that they have to die, Johns Hopkins University political scientist Francis Fukuyama answered, 'Absolutely.' ... In addition to these concerns, Schaub suggests that 'a nation of ageless individuals could well produce a sclerotic society, petrified in its ways and views.' Daniel Callahan makes a similar argument in a debate with life-extension advocate Gregory Stock, in which he claims, 'I doubt that if you give most people longer lives, even in better health, they are going to find new opportunities and make new initiatives.' Stock goes so far as to help his interlocutor with the hoary example of brain-dead old professors blocking the progress of vibrant young researchers by holding onto tenure. But that seems more of a problem for medieval institutional holdovers like universities than for modern social institutions like corporations. ... In fact, the available evidence cuts against concerns about 'a hardening of the vital social pathways.' Social and technological innovation has been most rapid in those societies with the highest average life expectancies. Yale economist William D. Nordhaus estimates that increases in longevity in the West account for 40 percent of the growth in gross national product for the period 1975-1995. Why? Not only do people work longer, but they work smarter - long lives allow for the accumulation of human capital. ... We do not know what immortality would be like. But should that happy choice become available, we can still decide whether or not we want to enjoy it. Besides, even if the ultimate goal of this technological quest is immortality, what will be immediately available is only longevity. The experience of longer lives will give the human race an opportunity to see how it works out. If immortality is a problem, it is a correctable one. Death always remains an option. Let us turn on its head the notorious argument by Leon Kass that our initial repugnance to biotechnological advances should make us wary of them. Put the other way around, the near-universal human yearning for longer, healthier lives should serve as a preliminary warrant for pursuing age-retardation as a moral good."



Longevity engineering is hard enough without such narrow minded (and scary) viewpoints like those above seeking to make it harder or ban it altogether. Fortunately these technologies are like weeds - keep stomping on them all you like but you're not going to halt their spread, growth or evolution . . . although unfortunately you can slow them down and thus directly cause the death and suffering of untold millions of people.

Posted by: Mark Bruce at December 22nd, 2011 8:40 PM
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