The Ethical Debate Of Life Extension Therapies
The Ethical Debate Of Life Extension Therapies
Aubrey de Grey (Chairman, Methuselah Foundation) gives expert video advice on: Why should we defy aging?; Are there any organziations who oppose anti-aging treatments?; Why would I want to live longer if I am old and frail? and more...
Why should we defy aging?
Aging kills people and by and large it kills people really, really horribly. Furthermore, it kills an unbelievable number of people: roughly 100,000 people a day worldwide. Overall in the world, roughly 150,000 people die each day and about 2/3 of them die of age-related causes. Of course, causes that young people, more or less never die of. In the industrialized world, it's more like 90 percent of people that die of age-related causes and as I said, most of them die really horribly - aging is really bad for you. Now, that's really bizarre, that one would actually ask the question, "Why should we defy aging?" Because we all know that we should defy cancer and atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's and diabetes, and so on, and there's no argument about it. People appreciate that these things are bad ideas, bad things, and it's a medical and social duty, and humanitarian duty to put serious effort into developing effective ways to defeat these problems. Now aging is simply the sum of all those things, plus a few things that we don't call diseases, like for example decline of immune function and loss of muscle mass and gain of fat mass - but still, the same applies, it's just the sum of all these aspects of aging that we already don't like.
Are there any organziations who oppose anti-aging treatments?
I think that once there is any proof in a concept that it is genuinely possible to keep the body sufficiently rejuvenated so that it maintains the useful and vigorous functions, even in old age, even if what we now call old age, that it will be very little opposition to these therapies. In just the same way there is very little opposition now to therapies that really work against diabetes or cancer or heart disease. Of course, we don't have a particular effective therapy for those things. But, in the future when those therapies arrive, no one expect will be there to be an opposition to them.
Is evolution too smart to cure aging?
Some people say, "well, you know, evolution would have eliminated aging if it were possible to do so, therefore, we're kidding ourselves in thinking that we might actually be able to do so." But that's wrong, for two reasons. Evolution certainly is really, really smart - much smarter than us. But, it has fewer tools than us: it only has one trick, which is selection between spontaneous mutations. And, what's even more important is, evolution has different objectives than what we have. Evolution is interested in maintaining genes from one century to the next. But, it can do that either by maintaining the organisms that have the genes from one century to the next, or, by making those organisms have offspring that carry the same genes forward. And, it turns out that from evolution's point of view, it was a lot easier to take this reproductive approach, taking genes forward from one generation to the next. But we, who have a certain amount of appreciation of the value of individual life, are perfectly entitled to adopt a different approach.
Will living longer have a negative impact on social security and retirement benefits?
The whole structure of social security and retirement will be completely different in the frustrating world because first of all, people will simply not be able, economically, to retire at sixty or sixty five forever. But secondly they won't want to because their point of retirement is what society gives to people who are going through hell because it is essentially feeling sorry for them and people won't be going through hell any more. Now you know if your a journalist for example and you have a career of forty years in journalism than you may actually have no journalism when you are sixty or sixty five and you may want to retire but then twenty years down the road you are still obviously able to keep up with your grand daughter on the ground floor, and golf may have lost its nobility value; and you barely want to go back and do something else with your life. So I think that we must give much emphasis on retraining and education. As you know you can go back after being a rock star or a scientist for forty years and it will be a completely different structure. But it would be an economically favourable one, in which the proportion of people in work would be higher, as now it feels retirement as a period thing.
Do life extension therapies take religion and spirituality into account?
It is extremely important to understand that the combating of aging is something that all major religions not only do not oppose, but actually, essentially mandate. Because, ultimately, aging is bad for you. It causes an immense amount of suffering and it kills people. And all the major religions are very clear that suffering is something that we have to combat when we can and, furthermore, that saving lives is what we ought to do when we can. It is absolutely essential to remember that extending lives, keeping people alive for longer than they otherwise would be, is no different from saving lives. Saving lives is simply, giving someone the chance to live longer than they might otherwise have a chance to live. So, there is no difference there. And that means that far from being in contradiction to religious teaching, what I'm working on is absolutely God's work.
Is technology ahead of our morals?
I think that people are right to look closely at all advancing technologies and ask whether they are being done for morally acceptable and indeed for morally mandated reasons. Some things that we have done with technology over the years we wish we hadn't done. For example the development of nuclear weapons but in the case of combating aging I feel that this question is particularly easy to answer in the affirmative that we are not ahead of your morals. We are doing the right thing by developing this technology as quickly as possible because is we just apply a sense of proportion to the question. We can see that aging causes vastly more suffering and more death than any other phenomena that still remain in today's world and if we accept that suffering is bad and that death is bad and that old people are people too then we have a duty to push this technology as far forward as possible.