What are some valid objections (and their counterarguments) to extreme human lifespan extension?
Image credit: Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash
By Shubhankar Kulkarni on Aug 18, 2020
A great video summary of arguments and counterarguments against radical life extension
The "Why die?" video by CGP Grey - https://youtu.be/C25qzDhGLx8 Then Kurzgesagt made a 2nd part - https://youtu.be/GoJsr4IwCm4 And then this really drives the point in - https://youtu.be/QMNGEY8OZqo
by Darko Savic on Aug 18, 2020
The argument of naturalness
Another common objection to lifespan extension is that it aging is natural. Some argue that before we go into deciding whether aging is natural or not, we need a more comprehensive definition of what ‘natural’ means in this context. This is because a virus or bacterium infecting its host is a natural process. Or, from another perspective, the long lifespan in some pockets of the world (the blue zones) could be considered unnatural. Two conditions that are put forward for a biological process to be considered natural are inevitability and universality. It argues that since aging is both inevitable and universal, it is natural. In response to this argument, the inevitability of the infections by the micro-organisms does not cause physicians to dismiss them as natural and, therefore, unsuitable for treatment.  Furthermore, genetic diseases can be considered inevitable.  That does not stop us from treating them. There are two types of universalities: within a species and between species. “Within a species” universality restricts us to considering Homo sapiens. All humans undergo aging. If, however, a drug that can halt the aging process was discovered, it will make aging no longer universal (or inevitable). Should aging then be considered unnatural?  The “between species” universality allows us to adopt a broader perspective.  When we consider other organisms, we see that aging is not entirely universal. Some animals exhibit negligible aging and senescence . Some argue that aging is, therefore, a special sort of disease.  Therefore, both inevitability and universality are not sufficient conditions to define naturalness such that it includes aging, but no (other) diseases. One could also argue that, if aging has a function, it is natural. However, aging exists simply as a by-product of selective forces working to maximize reproductive advantage early in life.  Even the evolutionary theories of aging suggest that aging has no biological function.  Thus, either we consider aging as unnatural, or consider it natural, but along with other diseases. References: 1. Caplan AL. The “Unnaturalness” of Ageing—Give Me Reason to Live! In: Health, disease and illness: Concepts in medicine [Internet]. Georgetown University Press; 2004. p. 117–27. Available from: https://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=quhKDAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&ots=6gnIf-jXz7&sig=RTDBLHa4nKocjIwM9RIZZqfQ34A&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false 2. Walker FO. Huntington’s disease. Lancet [Internet]. 2007 Jan;369(9557):218–28. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0140673607601111 3. De Winter G. Aging as Disease. Med Heal Care Philos [Internet]. 2015 May 21;18(2):237–43. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11019-014-9600-y 4. HAYFLICK L. Biological Aging Is No Longer an Unsolved Problem. Ann N Y Acad Sci [Internet]. 2007 Apr 1;1100(1):1–13. Available from: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1196/annals.1395.001 5. Finch CE. Update on Slow Aging and Negligible Senescence &ndash; A Mini-Review. Gerontology [Internet]. 2009;55(3):307–13. Available from: https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/215589 6. Gems D. Aging: To Treat, or Not to Treat? Am Sci [Internet]. 2011;99(4):278. Available from: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/aging-to-treat-or-not-to-treat 7. Partridge L, Gems D. Mechanisms of aging: public or private? Nat Rev Genet [Internet]. 2002 Mar;3(3):165–75. Available from: http://www.nature.com/articles/nrg753
by Shubhankar Kulkarni on Sep 04, 2020
"Do You study at all when there is no deadline?"
Let's say we did an amazing job researching in medicine and biotechnology and managed to prolong human healthspan up to 500 years or more. By perfectly balanced, personalized diet programs, we give all the right and specifically engineered components to our cells, so they can perform metabolism more efficiently and with less harmful consequences. Old stem cells are being replaced with new ones, refreshing and maintaining the tissues. Enhanced internal systems detect malfunctioning cells and clear them, along with senescent cells. People have no wrinkles or grey hair, bones are strong as made of titan and the sight is still sharp, while cognitive abilities and knowledge grow day by day. Our healthspan is prolonged, but what happens now when we removed a deadline (literally)? How does it affect everyday life? Pros On the one hand, people could become very cautious about what they eat, how they drive, or how they cross busy roads. Safety standards and insurance companies would gain importance almost overnight, using the eternal life as the main marketing tool. Death would not be just an end of the road for all, but only for those who are not careful. It would also potentiate the development of the green sector (industries, ecological solutions) and result in a healthier planet in general. Also, people would then have much more time to invest in studying and building their careers, resulting in more inventions and less stressful life. Cons On the other hand, the psychological impact of a prolonged lifespan on living generations could be devastating. For people who at first believed life has a natural ending, more time could result in laziness, people not wanting to do their jobs fast and efficient, because they have the whole eternity to do it. Moreover, death was always a reason or an excuse for many things. How many times we didn´t want to learn, but we had a deadline, so we made ourselves? How many wives suffered domestic violence, believing it will end soon? How many times did we decide to do something just because we were not sure if we will have a chance to do it again? People would lose a sense of time as a driver of change and focus on themselves and their battle for eternity. It would then be much harder to battle the depression when we fall in or to find motivation when there is no rush. Unstable people would probably give up much easier. Why? It is maybe the best to cite philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist, and Nobel laureate - Bertrand Russell: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
by Juran K. on Sep 07, 2020
Should aging be considered a disease?
Another question that arises is whether or not aging is a disease and whether it should be treated. Researchers have started off by defining (/redefining) disease. The characteristics a phenomenon needs to possess to be classified as disease are - (i) it leads to a reduction of one or more functional abilities below typical levels caused by internal processes or environmental agents, (ii) it leads to a reduced capacity of coping with changes in the environment, (iii) when comparing the individual under consideration to a sufficiently broad reference class.  Aging (or senescence) refers to the biological changes affecting organisms in the stage that can be called the adult period. Various biological indicators of functional abilities show a decrease during the aging process, [2–4] therefore, indicating that aging can be called a disease. One objection to consider aging as a disease is the argument of naturalness, which we have dealt with in another suggestion here (above). Secondly, there is the argument of successful aging. Elderly individuals who do not consider themselves to be worse off (successful aging) than their younger counterparts  illustrate that aging is not a disease. The main response to this argument lies in the subjectivity of self-reports and well-being. One can be ill and happy.  Therefore, viewing aging as a disease does not imply that persons of old age must be unhappy. Furthermore, one could argue that their subjective assessment of their situation (self-reporting) is affected by the expectations that certain physical capacities (for example, painful joints) are supposed to decline with age. “Self-deception is perhaps particularly likely to arise when people are faced with making judgments regarding their health...”  “It is possible for a person to be ill, happy, and aware of the fact that he or she is ill, allowing him or her to judge his/her status as suffering from a disease…. Some might argue that some of the elderly exhibit relatively little signs of a functional decline. However, it should be mentioned that a disease needn’t have a uniform manifestation. Diseases can have a later onset or a less precipitous decline. For example, in Huntington’s disease, both the age of onset and the rate of progression of the symptoms can vary significantly.”  The third argument is that of the reference class. This argument states that the elderly should constitute a reference class of their own, excluding younger adults. This will allow comparing the functional decline (or not) with the people who are of the same age as that of the patient of interest. This will obviously indicate that both the case and the reference have a similar functional decline and further prove that aging is, therefore, normal and not a disease.  However, there is no good reason why the normal values for functions observed in young adults cannot be used as a reference for elderly adults.  References: 1. De Winter G. Aging as Disease. Med Heal Care Philos [Internet]. 2015 May 21;18(2):237–43. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11019-014-9600-y 2. Vijg J, Campisi J. Puzzles, promises and a cure for ageing. Nature [Internet]. 2008 Aug;454(7208):1065–71. Available from: http://www.nature.com/articles/nature07216 3. Walker RF. Is aging a disease? A review of the Serono Symposia Workshop held under the auspices of The 3rd World Congress on the Aging Male, February 9, 2002, Berlin, Germany. Aging Male [Internet]. 2002 Jan 6;5(3):147–69. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/tam.18.104.22.168 4. Joaquin AM, Gollapudi S. Functional Decline in Aging and Disease: A Role for Apoptosis. J Am Geriatr Soc [Internet]. 2001 Sep;49(9):1234–40. Available from: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1046/j.1532-5415.2001.04990.x 5. Sneed JR, Whitbourne SK. Models of the Aging Self. J Soc Issues [Internet]. 2005 Jun;61(2):375–88. Available from: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2005.00411.x 6. Carel H. Can I Be Ill and Happy? Philosophia (Mendoza) [Internet]. 2007 Aug 7;35(2):95–110. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11406-007-9085-5 7. Cooper R. Disease. Stud Hist Philos Sci Part C Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci [Internet]. 2002 Jul;33(2):263–82. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0039368102000183 8. Boorse C. Health as a Theoretical Concept. Philos Sci [Internet]. 1977 Dec;44(4):542–73. Available from: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/288768 9. Izaks GJ, Westendorp RG. Ill or just old? Towards a conceptual framework of the relation between ageing and disease. BMC Geriatr [Internet]. 2003 Dec 19;3(1):7. Available from: http://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2318-3-7
by Shubhankar Kulkarni on Sep 10, 2020
Caring for life as a whole rather than just our own
If you view life from a holistic perspective, Gaia is an organism and we are part of its body. Humans could be compared to specific cells composing specific tissue in Gaia’s body, maybe even a neural tissue (although we would be quite a failure so far - a brain harming the whole organism). In this perspective, limited lifespans of our species don’t seem like a bad thing – if we didn’t have limited life spans we would be like cancer cells in Gaia’s body, especially having in mind that we are already harming it, even with limited lifespans. If we would find ways to indefinitely prolong our lifespans, we would become a tumor. If a certain generation starts to have a choice to live as long as they want, then we would face a serious human population crisis, if reproduction won’t decrease. One question is - would people still want to have children? Because a wish to have children is at least partially psychologically motivated – you want to have a continuation of yourself in one way or another (this is at least a partial reason and for some people might be the main) and if we affect our biology in a way that life of the species is extended without producing offspring, then maybe at the same time we would eliminate biological instinct too and there would be no reasons for producing children left. Then another question arises - would this be fair concerning all potential individuals yet to be born to never come into existence and a certain population of humans being fortunate enough to live in the right time, to have a right to live as long as they want without giving birth to others? Although if the wish for children would persist, we would definitely need solutions for the overpopulation of the Earth sooner or later. Coming back to the Gaia hypothesis, one could say that a part of the living system is beneficial to the whole only if it gives to that system instead of just using its resources and multiplying endlessly (the case of a tumor or a parasite). Maybe we didn’t discover extraterrestrial life yet, because our purpose is to make life extraterrestrial – to bring it to other planets or man-made space objects, starting from the Solar System. Then overpopulation wouldn’t seem like a problem anymore – space is too vast even for reproducing species with infinite lifespans. And it’s likely, that an actual, practical opportunity to extend human life and opportunity to bring life outside of the Earth will arise at the same time. But the harmonious image of such life extension beyond Earth in my mind would only be achieved if other life forms wouldn’t be used merely as a necessity for human survival, but for the sustainability of ecosystems and value of biological diversity. In short, humans should care for preserving and expanding life as a whole, rather than just their own.
by Povilas S on Sep 12, 2020
Longer life, but for whom and for what purpose? At what cost?
The first thing that occurs to me when thinking about prolonging human life span is the extent of it. What is the longest that could be added to human (or any other) life? While living a significantly prolonged life seems like an attractive fantasy-come-alive, I want to draw attention to some possible counters which might make us rethink whether we should really vie for it. When we say that we want to prolong life to a very large period, we need to be conscientious enough to think about the real technology that we will have to use to make it happen, repercussions of such an extension, and equally the proportionate reach of such a technology. One argument against extensive human longevity could be that such a technology will only create a massive inequality if it is not available to each and everyone on the planet. Such inequality would be different from all sorts of economic problems of the existing world since the gap in such a context lies not just in wealth and income or resource, but the very biology and physique itself. This will be very demanding, politically and philosophically. Another argument is purely environmental in reason. Human-caused climate change and environmental degradation are already taking a large toll on the planet. According to data, it is approximated that the average carbon footprint per person is around 4 tons, with an average life expectancy of 72 years. Data also says that to maintain the global climate rise well within 2 degrees Celcius - the cap beyond which the world's ecosystem and habitats will start collapsing- the average carbon footprint must fall to 2 tons per individual. If we live an extensively long life, our carbon footprint can be expected to increase rather than decrease. Additionally, it can be argued that living for far too long might be existentially futile and boring. All the while we would consume resources more as we live more, we might be the prey of dread and disgust. It might not be so interesting for people who are not inherently creative to live such a prolonged life without any meaningful purpose at hand. https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/#:~:text=The%20average%20carbon%20footprint%20for,is%20closer%20to%204%20tons. https://climateanalytics.org/briefings/15c-key-facts/
by Subash Chapagain on Sep 14, 2020