Addressing Naturalistic Objections to Extending Healthy Human Life Spans

Here I'll point out another of the articles going up at the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation, this time on the topic of the naturalistic fallacy where it occurs in opposition to healthy life extension. Our community would like to build medical therapies that address the causes of aging, thereby ending age-related disease and greatly extending healthy human life spans. It has always surprised me to find that most people, at least initially, object to this goal. It seems perfectly and straightforwardly obvious to me that aging to death, suffering considerably along the way, is just as much a problem to be overcome as any other medical condition that causes pain and mortality. Yet opposition exists, and that opposition is one of the greatest challenges faced when raising funding and pushing forward with research and development of rejuvenation therapies.

When it comes to treating aging as a medical condition the naturalistic fallacy is voiced in this way: aging is natural, what is natural is good, and therefore we shouldn't tamper with aging. If you look around at your houses, your computers, your modern medicine, and consider that such an objection is perhaps just a little late to the game, and hard to hold in a self-consistent manner, then you're probably not alone. Notably, the same objection is rarely brought up when it comes to treating specific age-related diseases, or in the matter of therapies that already exist. People who are uncomfortable about radical changes to the course of aging and who speak out against the extension of human life are nonetheless almost all in favor of cancer research, treatments for heart disease, and an end to Alzheimer's disease. Yet age-related diseases and aging are the same thing, the same forms of damage and dysfunction, only differing by degree and by the names they are given. Objecting to the treatment of aging on naturalistic grounds without also objecting to near all modern medicine is a deeply incoherent position. The whole and entire point of medicine is to defeat the natural causes of pain, debility, and death.

The word 'unnatural' conjures up feelings of doom and dread, and it is unfortunately often used by critics of science as a way to justify their own concerns. It is argued that interfering with the natural order of things is wrong and against nature, and therefore increasing lifespans thanks to scientific advancements is something we should not be doing. From an early age, most of us are taught that 'natural' is good and always preferable. Concepts like 'natural organic food is better,' 'natural remedies are always the best option,' and so on are all deeply ingrained into our culture. With this in mind, it is easy to understand why some people may consider the advanced medicines and next generation therapies science is developing being somehow unnatural.

We have always sought ways to protect our health and extend human lifespan. But there are methods that already existed when we were born, and methods appearing later. Most people would not consider washing their hands, taking medicines, or undertaking surgery as being bad - unnatural or unethical - because we are used to their existence. These are ways to extend life. But we tend to feel anxious when we encounter something new. Part of this reaction is biologically programmed: during human evolution, new things might turn out to be dangerous, and wariness could be a successful strategy. But another part is related to the deficiency of knowledge about the new intervention and the indirect consequences of its application.

In case of need, such as the need to cure a severe and aggressive disease, we welcome even radical interventions like gene therapy, because we know for sure that the alternative is probably death - and nothing can be worse than that. But let's remember that the various aging processes lead to the development of deadly diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart disease and stroke, which makes any attempts to bring these processes under medical control highly ethical. A number of researchers are currently debating if aging should be considered a disease or a syndrome itself, and some suggest including aging as a disease under the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). If accepted as part of ICD-11 it could create an opportunity for the medical industry to test and register new interventions for addressing the aging processes. This would then allow healthy middle aged patients to use these interventions even in the absence of age-related diseases, in order to prevent or postpone their manifestation.

As so-called life extension technologies are no more than medical technologies focused on preventing age-related diseases at very early stage and sustaining health throughout life, it is obvious that they should be considered in the same way as any other form of medicine. They are no more unnatural than the medicines we already use today. The development of medical technologies, their implementation, and the efforts to make them accessible and affordable to every human being reflect the universal goal of the continuous improvement of health.

Link: http://www.lifeextensionadvocacyfoundation.org/education/unnatural/

Comments

Thanks Reason and we hope everyone is finding these articles interesting. Of course its a complex issue and it would be easy to write much more but we tried to strike a balance between detail and a general audience.

Posted by: Steve Hill at January 9th, 2017 8:25 AM

@Steve Hill,

Are you involved with "Life Extension Advocacy Foundation"?

Also, Michael chimes in occasionally, is he involved with this organization or another medical research org? He seems to provides medical details in the comment section, maybe he is directly involved as a reasearcher?

Thanks all.

Posted by: Robert at January 9th, 2017 2:11 PM

@Robert: Steve Hill works with LEAF and the Major Mouse Testing Program, among others. Michael works with the SENS Research Foundation and co-authored Ending Aging.

Posted by: Reason at January 9th, 2017 2:24 PM

@Robert: I am one of the board members of LEAF/Lifespan.io and I run the MMTP, I have worked with SENS and others too but these are my main things.

Posted by: Steve Hill at January 9th, 2017 4:28 PM

Thanks guys for your replies. It is good to know where you all are coming from, and I greatly appreciate the contribution you all provide for this aging endeavor.

FYI, my mother decided she does not want to do dialysis anymore (I can't blame her), although the alternative is a hospice. It would be much to have an alternative, such as a portable kidney if not an artifical kidney. Of course, at 79 yrs old, other problems comes up too. So, lets get going SENS:)

Posted by: Robert at January 10th, 2017 2:26 AM

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