The Duty to Extend the "Biological Warranty Period"

A couple of months back, I pointed out the first pair of posts in a series entitled "the Duty to Extend the Biological Warranty Period." The series looks at the moral imperative to work on rejuvenation biotechnology from a social justice perspective. While this is not a viewpoint I agree with in any way, it is nonetheless interesting to watch folk on that side of the fence trying to construct a self-consistent argument for support of engineered longevity research. After all, most of their fellow travelers are, in public at least, opposed to anything that might be construed as building greater privilege for the wealthy - though medical progress is no different from any form of progress in technology when it comes to how much it costs, who gets access to it, and how those line items change over time.

In any case, here's the full series. Beyond matters related to redistribution of property and the role of government in society, you'll see that there is the usual broad swathe of common ground:

For over the past decade now I have taught undergraduate and graduate students on ethical issues pertaining to life extension and aging and I am always struck by how easily and quickly intelligent people can convince themselves that it is better to accept the rate of aging selected for by the blind process of evolution through natural selection than by a rate humans consciously influence to expand the opportunities for health by reducing and delaying many of the afflictions of senescence.

The objections I have heard over the years range from a concern that reducing mortality could reduce our appreciation of life, to concerns that it would be boring to be married to the same person for longer and a concern that promoting the health of the elderly would make things worse for the employment of younger generations (a sentiment I find is more common among my undergraduate students who have anxieties about finding employment and paying off their student debts).

Most of these objections can be dispensed with when one makes the benefits of age retardation more concrete. Adding 2 or 3 decades to the human lifespan, for example by a pill that mimics the effects of caloric restriction, would mean a delay of cancer, heart disease, stroke, AD, etc. When framed in that light the concerns typically raised against life extension begin to sound less compelling, even ridiculous. Would living with a lower risk of death from cancer, stroke or heart disease decrease our appreciation of living? If so, then is that a reason to promote smoking, obesity and an inactive lifestyle? Is it desirable that we increase the job prospects of today's younger adults by ensuring their parents' generation are afflicted with stroke or heart disease a decade or two earlier? Is increasing the risk of morbidity and mortality a fair and reasonable strategy for tackling societal problems like unemployment? No, of course not. But much work must be done to persuade people to think rationally about such issues rather than be governed by their knee jerk reactions to such cases.

Most people instinctively view the world in the light of the broken window fallacy - the economic concerns noted above are a good example of that. We are hardwired to see zero-sum games where there is only open and mutually beneficial trade, and to believe destruction of value is beneficial. It takes a moment's effort to step beyond what your gut tells you (wrongly) about the way the world works, but all too few people are prepared to make that leap.


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