The Moral Bankruptcy of Bioethics

I have to think that all too many bioethicists see it as their job to manufacture reasons not to make progress towards better medical technologies capable of preventing more pain, suffering, and death. The more self-evident the potential benefits of new medicine, the more ridiculous these manufactured reasons become, but these individuals are nonetheless striving hard to act as grit in the wheels, a spanner in the works. Some are even proud of it. How is it that we supposedly sensible human beings have created an entire infrastructure with the purpose of draining funding away from real medical research into order to slow it down? This entire field and all of its practitioners should be evicted from the halls of polite society.

Discussions of life extension ethics have focused mainly on whether an extended life would be desirable to have, and on the social consequences of widely available life extension. I want to explore a different range of issues: four ways in which the advent of life extension will change our relationship with death, not only for those who live extended lives, but also for those who cannot or choose not to. Although I believe that, on balance, the reasons in favor of developing life extension outweigh the reasons against doing so (something I won't argue for here), most of these changes probably count as reasons against doing so.

First, the advent of life extension will alter the human condition for those who live extended lives, and not merely by postponing death. Second, it will make death worse for those who lack access to life extension, even if those people live just as long as they do now. Third, for those who have access to life extension but prefer to live a normal lifespan because they think that has advantages, the advent of life extension will somewhat reduce some of those advantages, even if they never use life extension. Fourth, refusing life extension turns out to be a form of suicide, and this will force those who have access to life extension but turn it down to choose between an extended life they don't want and a form of suicide they may (probably mistakenly) consider immoral.

Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bioe.12161

Comments

Moral hand wringers at it again! I would do more than remove them from polite society. People who wilfully impede medical progress and Bio-gerontology should be stripped of their credentials. Do No Harm doesn't mean do nothing!

Posted by: Steve H at April 28th, 2015 7:35 AM

With respect the author whilst broadly in favour of life extension is worrying about situations and circumstances that are fairly irrelevant unless the technology to increase life becomes mainstream soon.

We should be aiming to develop the medical interventions then let people decide for themselves, this is the fairest way. If people choose to take LE therapy that is ultimately their choice and the same goes for those who do not. What is unacceptable is us having the ability to do something about aging and degeneration and deciding for future generations, they should have the right to choose the same as we do.

Posted by: Steve H at April 28th, 2015 7:58 AM

That some people in the bioethics field make unethical claims doesn't mean that all the field must dissapear.

Posted by: Antonio at April 28th, 2015 8:16 AM

Thinking about a post aging world is fine but develop the technology first then worry about it!

Posted by: Steve H at April 28th, 2015 8:37 AM

In response to Steve H's post, I would have to say that he WOULD be right EXCEPT for the fact that the development of, "the technology to increase life" largely depends on investments (in training, scientific endeavour, thought, etc.) that are themselves dependent upon the social and ethical milieu.

The many changes and advances made after the "Enlightenment" were the result of changes in society's outlook and acceptance of change, which lead to acceptance (except for the luddites) of the changes the set the stage for the industrial revolution. There was no great difference in the knowledge base and raw materials available before the industrial revolution compared to the period before that, rather, the difference was one of outlook and social permission.

Posted by: Benjamin C Wade at April 28th, 2015 8:53 AM

Excellent point Benjamin which means we need to convince society that not aging to death and being in agony is in fact a good thing. I do feel that too much worrying about things that haven't happened yet goes on though instead of working towards rejuvenation therapies.

Advocacy is something that we the laymen can help with even if the science is beyond us.

Posted by: Steve H at April 28th, 2015 9:08 AM

I do think that advocacy and acceptance is growing. Just look at the field in the last two years, with how much money has been going into the field, especially with Calico and Human Longevity, inc. While not everyone here might agree with their methodology compared to SENS' approach, the field is becoming more and more mainstream. I do think there will be some areas where it will be incredibly hard to gain support though, especially in places like the Bible Belt in the southern US, but hopefully that doesn't impede progress.

Posted by: Ham at April 28th, 2015 9:25 AM

So let's halt cancer research because it will make it worse for people who cannot have access to it at first. And then we should definitely ban life saving blood transfusions because they reduce the advantages of those groups who refuse them on religious grounds. In fact, shouldn't we just stop living in houses with running water and go back to tents instead, so that we don't upset nomadic cultures? The intellectual calibre of these arguments is just about the same of those in 8th grade debate class when you'd claim anything, no matter how absurd, just to irritate the teacher.

Posted by: Barbara T. at April 28th, 2015 10:36 AM

@ Barbara,

I agree. I feel the same way when I hear people argue against longevity research simply because there are still tons of infectious diseases and poor people in third world countries, etc. Or that we shouldn't work on saving "the rich" when there's still people going hungry, etc. I'm not trying to be unsympathetic, but progress cannot come to a stop because of this.

Honestly, what happened to people being able to do what they thought was best for themselves. You want to take a medicine? Great! You don't? That's fine too. Whats wrong with people having a choice over what they do with their bodies? I'm so tired of people trying to hold up progress because they don't like or agree with something. All of these things are going to lead to a bunch of medical tourism if I had to venture a guess.

Posted by: Ham at April 28th, 2015 10:45 AM

Just reading this is painful.

"First, the advent of life extension will alter the human condition for those who live extended lives, and not merely by postponing death."

Okay, and...? That's, um, what being alive means? You can babble on about an "altered human condition" all you like (I'm very sure that my condition at age 300 will be quite different than it is now!), but it beats the alternative!

"Second, it will make death worse for those who lack access to life extension, even if those people live just as long as they do now."

Only by comparison. This one's straight into the gaping maw of "suffering for all is better than ameliorated suffering for some". I can't imagine how anyone can not find this repugnant as all hell, and I'm broke.

"Third, for those who have access to life extension but prefer to live a normal lifespan because they think that has advantages, the advent of life extension will somewhat reduce some of those advantages, even if they never use life extension."

This does not make logical sense on any level. It reduces some of the advantages (what advantages, being dead?) that are preferable to it? What?

"Fourth, refusing life extension turns out to be a form of suicide, and this will force those who have access to life extension but turn it down to choose between an extended life they don't want and a form of suicide they may (probably mistakenly) consider immoral."

It's funny how he slides around the point. If refusing life extension is a form of suicide, what does that make preventing the development of life extension?

This mess was published? In an actual paper? And that link is trying to sell it for money? Reason's got it right; burn the whole business of "bioethics" to the ground.

And, because I'm sure some of the hand-wringers will get around to reading this:

Once you start telling people that they need to die to satisfy an arbitrary moral framework, your stance is no longer remotely ethical in the most basic sense of the word. Especially when those deaths might be prolonged and horrible. Seriously, go to a nursing home sometime. Volunteer to take care of the elderly. Visit your ailing grandmother. Then come back and tell us those people really deserved that and that you want it to happen to everyone.

Personally, I pin a huge chunk of the blame on Hollywood. Way, way, way too many bad pieces of fiction create a "human alteration is bad!" mindset that leads directly to poverty, stupidity, self-inflicted harm and slow death.

Posted by: Slicer at April 28th, 2015 11:03 AM

I think one of the larger concerns about this is it being distributed unevenly...but there already many medical treatments that are already distributed unevenly. It's unfortunate, but that's the world we live in. And yeah, honestly, a lot of people believe that people die, because of their moral framework (be it religion, or they think that's just how nature intended it). I don't agree with this, but convincing people otherwise is usually difficult. Or it will be difficult, until something shows really promising results, then a greater amount of people will be convinced. I do like your point on how if refusing life extension being a suicide, then preventing the development is essentially the same thing. This authors points are kind of a contrived mess.

Posted by: Ham at April 28th, 2015 11:58 AM

Who "invented" the credentials of the Bioethicist?
Who gives them credence?

Governmental entities looking to cut cost of healthcare.
Whenever they to justify a reduction in senior care they raise their hands
and point to Bioethicists as an Independent view that support their policies.

No one seems to have to the guts in public to call them amoral agents.

Posted by: Rob Flores at April 28th, 2015 12:57 PM

Damn Slicer - you hit it out of the park!

It's amazing what will get published.

Posted by: VV5 at April 28th, 2015 6:02 PM

"I do like your point on how if refusing life extension being a suicide, then preventing the development is essentially the same thing."

Actually, it's quite a bit worse. If failing to save your own life from preventable causes is suicide, then preventing the saving of every single other person's life from those same causes is omnicide. It's akin to slashing the tires of every ambulance in the world. We might as well pull out the Godwin now- mathematically, it really is a thousand times worse than Hitler.

It's easy to forget what's at stake here, but it boils down to two simple options:

1. Life extension is developed.
2. You, your family, your friends, your friends' families, and everyone you've ever known all deteriorate and die within this century as your brains, hearts, kidneys, and everything else gradually grind to a halt, unless you kill yourselves first.

And no, hand-wringers still reading this, "everyone dies eventually" does not cut it as a counter-argument; you might as well tell all the firefighters not to bother and all the surgeons to go home.

Anyone can feel free to chop up and repost any of this when confronted with hand-wringers or death cultists.

Posted by: Slicer at April 29th, 2015 12:24 PM

@slicer

I completely agree with everything you said. Unfortunately it seems there's a large fraction of people who believe death is good because there is something way better waiting for them after. Some people just don't seem to care about death or living longer. Well, at least reading the comments section on various aging research articles would have you believe that anyway. Which makes no sense to me, especially because if death is so desirable, these people would not receive any medical attention for anything.i suspect that there will be many hypocrites when the first treatments roll out, but we'll see. But unfortunately, there's plenty of people with these types of views, that influence policy in this country. Which makes me wonder... Let's say calico comes up with some sort of longevity treatment... Would it be legal? I feel like if it wasn't it would be a ton of money wasted on their end. And no corporation likes to willingly lose money.

Posted by: Ham at April 29th, 2015 1:15 PM

^THIS!

Slicer has a way with words that I do not, but this sums up exactly what is at stake here. We likely do not agree on what constitutes the best approach to tackle every aspect of aging but nonetheless I certainly support what he is saying here.

Posted by: Steve H at April 30th, 2015 2:41 AM

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