Aubrey de Grey, cofounder of the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Research Foundation, has little patience for those people who persist in clinging to the idea that it is in any way acceptable to let the death and suffering caused by aging continue. If we lived in a world in which there was nothing we could do, then perhaps accepting aging would be the sensible thing to do. But we do not. We live in a world in which the first rejuvenation therapies capable of reversing a root cause of aging, the accumulation of senescent cells, are entering human trials. Numerous other classes of potential rejuvenation therapy are well described, well understood, and only lacking sufficient financial support to move forward at the same pace. Aging and all of its consequences can be brought under medical control: all that is needed is the will and the funding to move ahead and get the job done.
Having publicly declared that the first person to live for more than a millennium is likely alive today, de Grey has dedicated large amounts of energy and time to the pursuit of medical technology which may one day allow humans to live indefinitely. Having graduated with a degree in computer science in 1985, de Grey switched fields in his late twenties upon discovering "the horrifying fact that most people, and indeed most biologists, viewed ageing as not very important or interesting." He appears both astonished and disgusted that the world pays so little attention to ageing, the one malady which affects us all.
De Grey defines ageing as "the collection of types of damage that the body does to itself throughout life as consequences of its normal operation." His major breakthrough came through the realisation that rather than attempting to delay the damage inflicted by ageing, as was the established practice, gerontologists could do better by repairing this damage after it has occurred. This idea, though "counterintuitive" to many of his colleagues, has now become "totally mainstream" in the field, and forms the basis of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) Research Foundation which de Grey co-founded in 2009.
Speaking of the work taking place at SENS, and around the world, de Grey proudly declares that there have been "huge advances" in implementing his theory of damage repair. "Among the most high-profile is the ability to remove senescent cells using certain drugs, but there's a lot more that is more esoteric, such as making backup copies of the mitochondrial DNA in the nucleus and introducing bacterial enzymes to eliminate otherwise indigestible waste products." Asked about the biggest barriers currently facing progress, de Grey replies: "Money, money and money." He blames the field's financial struggles on "the desperation that almost all people have to put ageing out of their minds and pretend that it is some kind of blessing in disguise, so that they can get on with their miserably short lives without being preoccupied by the terrible thing that awaits them." According to de Grey, this attitude is "psychologically understandable but morally inexcusable".
De Grey rejects criticism of his field as "unnatural", citing this challenge as another "great example of the desperation of so many people to switch off their brains when confronted with the need to discuss the defeat of ageing." Towards those who make the "unnatural" claim, de Grey is both indignant and dismissive: "It takes about ten IQ points and ten milliseconds to notice that the whole of technology is 'unnatural' - including, of course, the whole of medicine - endeavours that those who voice this objection do not tend to oppose."
Morally, de Grey does not have any doubts about the quest to extend life: "For something to be an ethical issue it has to be a meaningful dilemma and in order to make that case one must make the case either that people who were born a long time ago have less entitlement to health, as a human right, than younger people, or that health itself is a lesser human right than other things that might end up being mutually exclusive with it, like parenthood. Once one focuses on the fact that this is just medicine, that any longevity effects would be just side-effects of health, the 'ethics' of the matter rather rapidly vaporises."