April's CR Diary

A diary of a 30 year old woman following CRON, or Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition, for health and life extension.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Shouldn't They Have the Right To Choose?

That's what Aubrey de Grey said to a standing room only audience in Edmonton, Alberta, when a student at the University of Alberta asked how future societies would deal with the potential problems created by radical life-extending biomedicine. You can find an excellent description of the talk by one of the M Prize brothers (aka TNGOE) at:
De Grey didn't try to deny that longer, healthy lifespans might cause changes in the way people live. Nor did he offer simple answers. Instead, he pointed out that future socities may face challenges as people begin to live much much longer, but that they should have the choice to face those challenges head on and find their own solutions. If we refuse to work toward curing aging, we deny them the choice. Our inaction condemns them to death.

The enthusiasm of the crowd in the packed auditorium at the University of Alberta was overwhelming. Students, faculty, townspeople of all ages listened with rapt attention as de Grey outlined his common sense approach to conquering the greatest killer of all time. By the time questions were raised, it was clear that most in the audience had accepted de Grey's premise that curing aging is possible. That's why the questions revolved mostly on the potential problems that could be created by the success of the project. "What about overpopulation?" "What would people do with their lives?"

When people begin to ask questions about the consequences of curing aging as we know it, it signals to me that they can't refute de Grey's arguments about the *possibility* of curing aging, so they turn to arguing about the *desirability.* It is indeed hard to refute the basic premise that if we could repair the damage caused by being alive, there's no reason to believe that we can't continue being alive indefinitely (or until we get squashed by a truck on the New Jersey Turnpike.)

The problem with arguing about the *desiribility* of curing aging is that it requires one to argue that people have the moral obligation to die. We would never say to a representative of the American Heart Association that curing heart disease is bad because it would cause lots of people to live longer. We would never tell a nurse who works in the neonatal ICU that it would be better for those palm of the hand-sized babies to die instead of growing into healthy, productive adults. So why should we argue that just because someone is 80, or 90, or 100, or 110, or 150, they should make the planet less crowded by going off somewhere to die?

When people say to me, "I wouldn't want to live that long," and I haven't had my coffee yet and am not in a patient mood, I am tempted to say, "Well then could you just die now and save us all the irritation?" Arguing that someone should cease to exist just because they've made one comment that I happen to find annoying is no more absurd than arguing that the same person should relieve the rest of us of their company because they reach an arbitrary birthday. As Aubrey said in his talk at U of Alberta, it's the ultimate form of ageism.

I am extremely encouraged to see a group of enthusiastic young people grasping the logic of curing aging, and I hope that one of the students we met yesterday will go on to do the scientific research to save all of our lives. It's the least they could do, in exchange for the lovely M Prize buttons we gave out for free.


  • At 5:47 PM, Blogger Mary Robinson said…

    People are at their most cruel and callous when life is short and cheap. Can you imagine how unthinkable violence and war would be if people could live 1000 years? How safe transportation would have to be? My projection would be that it would change the world for the better. People would still only have a couple of children - but you might have them at 300, not 30. All the knowledge and experience that we gain by 70 would now be there to guide us wisely for the next 900+ years.

    I am an atheist, so this colors my opinion. I don't believe that I will exist after I die - so I would like to live as long as possible. It seems to me that religion is inevitably affected by life extension and that religious beliefs affect people's perceptions of it. Although I think religion has good influence on many people, I think the promise of heaven keeps people from making the bst of their life on earth. It also makes death less tragic - but to me less tragic than it really is.

  • At 7:55 PM, Blogger Ol Cranky said…


    I'm not so sure I fully agree. Yes people are most cruel and callous when life is cheap, but not necessarily when it's short. I actually think if people could live to, say, 1000 we'd find an increase in eugenics and the like to limit who could procreate and when (and, possibly, the destruction of any "imperfect" life as the human population takes it's toll on the world).


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