The Moral Imperative for Longevity Science, as Seen From the Social Justice Point of View

The concepts and ideology relating to egalitarianism and social justice are associated with advocates and a community largely hostile to engineered human longevity. To the lay egalitarian extending healthy life looks like more inequality in the making, so they oppose longevity science for the same reasons they oppose every new idea that they believe might benefit the wealthy first of all: death for everyone before inequality for anyone is, depressingly, pretty much exactly where they stand. You can see manifestations of this line of thought in resource allocations and rationing forced on some regions by centralized planning in medicine - such as the "fair innings" argument in the UK, used to justify moving resources away from medical provision to the old.

To be clear, in that sort of situation it is the centrally planned, command and control Soviet-style institutions of clinical medicine that are the problems - rationing and fierce arguments over who should feed from the trough are only symptoms. These are outgrowths of the other line item that walks hand in hand with egalitarianism: the urge to power. Egalitarian ideals cannot be enacted without the power to force people to do what they would not otherwise have done: along this road lies socialism, fascism, communism. Any flavor of authoritarianism in medicine, as in all other human endeavors, inevitably destroys in the incentives for progress, good service, and quality that exist in a market. It doesn't matter how good the original intentions were, the end result is never in doubt; only how long it takes to destroy the wealth and progress that previously existed.

In any case, opposition to human life extension based on an assumption that it will create greater inequality is not uncommon. Egalitarians age, suffer, and die just like the rest of us, however, and we are now entering an era in which the research community might develop biotechnologies to reverse aging. Egalitarians thus have a strong incentive to either selectively abandon their convictions or find a way to advocate for work on rejuvenation biotechnology within their philosophies. As a topic, this has cropped up a number of times in the past here at Fight Aging!. See, for example:

Here are more thoughts on the moral imperative to develop ways to defeat aging and age-related suffering, as seen from the egalitarian viewpoint of imposed obligations and duties. The use of aging as a term here is somewhat loose, but the point that is being made should be clear nonetheless:

The Duty to Extend the "Biological Warranty Period" (Part 1)

Over the coming months I intend to post a few thoughts that I am developing for a new paper on the duty to extend the human "biological warranty period" (via retarding the rate of molecular and cellular decline).


Writing in 1971, Singer wanted to bring attention to the neglected issue of global poverty, and the duties the affluent have to mitigate the disadvantage of those in distant lands. The fact that the vulnerable live very far away does not erode the strength of the moral duty to aid them. Many aspects of Singer's argument are important for my project, though my specific topic is different from his (i.e. tackling aging rather than poverty).


For the 21st century, I think the aging of the human species is *THE* challenge of our times. Unlike poverty, which is a problem it is easy for most people to perceive as a problem (even if they do not do enough to tackle it), one has to do a great deal of work to make vivid the magnitude of the challenges of global aging. ... Because it is difficult to grasp the magnitude of the harms of senescence most people simply take the current rate of aging, and the diseases and disability that result from it, as "a given". As if aging is natural, and death from aging something that has always happened to our species. But both of these assumptions are wrong. The aging of a species is not in fact natural, it is an artifact - a product of human intervention. The only species that age on this planet are those that humans protect from predation and starvation so that they live longer lives, and eventually expire the biological warranty period imposed by evolution through natural selection. Once a population begins to outlive the biological warranty period, there is an explosion in the prevalence of chronic disease, pain and disability. And this is the scenario of humanity today.

The Duty to Extend the "Biological Warranty Period" (Part 2)

So the argument I intend to develop in this new paper will be an exercise in empirical ethics. It takes seriously the reality that the aging populations of today face novel health challenges (e.g. high prevalence of chronic disease and disability) never experienced before in human history. The moral landscape thus needs to adapt to reflect this novel empirical reality. I begin with a basic moral principle - the duty to aid - and explore the implications empirical considerations from demography, evolutionary biology and biogerontology have for the way we think the duty to aid should be employed in the early 21st century.

What is the context of the human species today? Human populations are aging. Our populations are living longer lives than they ever have in human history, and we are having fewer children. The phenomenon of global aging will have a profound impact on the demands of morality.

In the real world, unfortunately, the widespread adoption of ideas relating to egalitarianism, positive rights, and enforced obligation tends to lead to bad end points, such as the former Soviet Union or the current state of medical regulation in Europe and the US - where it is illegal to try to produce a commercial therapy for aging, for example.

We humans are sadly somewhat hardwired to approve of enforcement of egalitarian ideals, through threat and violence if necessary. This evolved instinct for equality stands in opposition to the incentives and freedom required for rapid generation of wealth and technological progress throughout a society - if you can't keep the rewards of your labor, why work harder? If any reward due to success in a risky endeavor (such as medical research and clinical development) is partially confiscated for redistribution, there will be fewer groups willing to undertake that risk. And so forth.

It is worth noting that the incentives of individuals involved in these examples were all for better services, faster progress towards new medical technologies, and higher quality products - and yet in the name of equality and fairness they collaborated to create a system that harms these goals or makes them impossible. That should stand as a grim warning to those of us who would like to think that rejuvenation biotechnology is enough of a grail to overcome these tendencies toward destruction, stasis, and poverty.


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