Bioethics and Politics of Life Extension
Though many scientists state that life extension and radical life extension are possible, there are still no international or national programs focused on radical life extension. Bioethics may come into play. There are political forces staying for and against life extension. By 2012, in Russia, the United States, Israel, and the Netherlands, the Longevity political parties started. They aimed to provide political support to radical life extension research and technologies, and ensure the fastest possible and at the same time soft transition of society to the next step – life without aging and with radical life extension, and to provide access to such technologies to most currently living people.
Leon Kass (chairman of the US President’s Council on Bioethics from 2001 to 2005) has questioned whether potential exacerbation of overpopulation problems would make life extension unethical. He states his opposition to life extension with the words:
“simply to covet a prolonged life span for ourselves is both a sign and a cause of our failure to open ourselves to procreation and to any higher purpose … [The] desire to prolong youthfulness is not only a childish desire to eat one’s life and keep it; it is also an expression of a childish and narcissistic wish incompatible with devotion to posterity.”
John Harris, former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, argues that as long as life is worth living, according to the person himself, we have a powerful moral imperative to save the life and thus to develop and offer life extension therapies to those who want them.
Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom has argued that any technological advances in life extension must be equitably distributed and not restricted to a privileged few. In an extended metaphor entitled “The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant”, Bostrom envisions death as a monstrous dragon who demands human sacrifices. In the fable, after a lengthy debate between those who believe the dragon is a fact of life and those who believe the dragon can and should be destroyed, the dragon is finally killed. Bostrom argues that political inaction allowed many preventable human deaths to occur.
Aging as a disease
Most mainstream medical organizations and practitioners do not consider aging to be a disease. David Sinclair says: “I don’t see aging as a disease, but as a collection of quite predictable diseases caused by the deterioration of the body”. The two main arguments used are that aging is both inevitable and universal while diseases are not. However, not everyone agrees. Harry R. Moody, Director of Academic Affairs for AARP, notes that what is normal and what is disease strongly depends on a historical context. David Gems, Assistant Director of the Institute of Healthy Ageing, strongly argues that aging should be viewed as a disease. In response to the universality of aging, David Gems notes that it is as misleading as arguing that Basenji are not dogs because they do not bark. Because of the universality of aging he calls it a ‘special sort of disease’. Robert M. Perlman, coined the terms ‘aging syndrome’ and ‘disease complex’ in 1954 to describe aging.
The discussion whether aging should be viewed as a disease or not has important implications. It would stimulate pharmaceutical companies to develop life extension therapies and in the United States of America, it would also increase the regulation of the anti-aging market by the FDA. Anti-aging now falls under the regulations for cosmetic medicine which are less tight than those for drugs.