Super-Aging The Moral Dangers of Seeking Immortality
AbeBooks Seller Since May 21, 2012Quantity Available: 20
AbeBooks Seller Since May 21, 2012Quantity Available: 20
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Title: Super-Aging The Moral Dangers of Seeking ...
Book Type: Paperback
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Let's assume that science, through genetic and social engineering, will allow us to live a hundred or more years in reasonably good health, but with the burden of minor chronic disease. If life goes on for that long, however, will nature, God, or some faction of ourselves, bolster death to restore balance to the world? Will the super-elderly want to live that long? Because of the potential burdens, will only the elites enjoy the opportunity to super-age--and if so, will democracy and freedom suffer? Will the population weaken physically, mentally, and spiritually as it ages?
Will the young, pushed out by a flood of geezers, revolt? We can't help but view our existence through the many frameworks of life and death, regardless of whether we call them aging, science, naturalism, religion, spiritualism, or super-naturalism. Where does human life begin and end? At the level of the gene, the cell, the individual human, or society--or the unknown? If we super-age--as it appears we will--what will happen to the balances we strike?From the Inside Flap:
A Long Life
The wise man lives as long as he should, not as long as he can.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; ...
In lectures and in his book, gerontologist Aubrey de Grey contends that aging is like malaria and other diseases -- a scourge. "Old people are people, too!" he argues passionately -- aging kills 100,000 people a day. To critics of super-aging who ask how a future society will handle the population age imbalance or the resources immortals will consume, he responds that while the concerns are legitimate, they don't outweigh the merits of saving so many lives and alleviating so much suffering. To those who worry about children and grandchildren who will have to fight to exist and then support the super-elderly decades or even centuries beyond normal old age, he simply casts them off by objecting, morally, to anyone's right to tell a future "speculative" society how to behave.
As one of his supporters maintains:
[O]ne of the immediate concerns I hear is ... the planet ... running out of resources. Personally, I am convinced that when this problem arrives we will solve it, and that there are a variety of ways that this could be done (much lower birth rates, higher density on this planet, moving into space and/or to other planets), so I am much more concerned with curing aging. I don't want to see any more of my friends or family die, and I would like to enjoy life as long as I want.
De Grey's (almost Kantian) imperative -- to force society to do good without fretting about the consequences -- appeals to our natural desire to survive far into the future, to experience endlessly the richness of life, and to continue our journeys toward enlightenment. However, this imperative indulges those who believe that super-aging is a right. As we will examine in more depth, such a right presumes social priorities and imposes costs that may not reap benefits. The right to immortality therefore begs the very morality of the process de Grey wants to unleash: who deserves the super-priorities and super-expenses of super-aging?
The consequences of man-made versus natural life-and-death systems are enormous for the planet. De Grey's laudable desire to alleviate suffering in the elderly -- not by death, but by super-aging -- easily could lead to unintended consequences. For example, if de Grey overrules natural regulation of the life-and-death system, promoting human immortality in the rigorously controlled settings necessary to support it, we may not leave our species the flexibility to cope with environmental events. The natural ability to adapt to disasters may cease and, in order to avoid extinction, we may find ourselves relying only on science to save us. If society fails to provide injections, or even the electricity to power dialysis machines, super-agers could survive for a century or two, only to die suddenly in droves.
While we may lengthen our lives within tightly controlled environments, we also could corrupt natural balances on earth -- beginning with the strength of the wider population or the burdens we impose on our children. Perhaps we may fail to assume adequate regulatory control over nature or ignore, for mundane political reasons, the innocent and the worthy. Perhaps we may never control more than a little bit more of our own biological destinies. How will Mother Nature regard the bastardization of her countless balances? Perhaps Sherwin Nuland's critical retort to de Grey is right: "[I]t will not be a neutral or malevolent force that will do us in, but one that is benevolent in the extreme, one whose only motivation is to improve us and better our civilization."
We must go farther in our examination. We must examine de Grey's premise that immortality is a moral right and that the imperatives to extend life -- and not let life terminate naturally -- compel us to choose an active science over a passive nature. If we travel even part way down the road with zealous immortalists, we may find ourselves assuming the overwhelming responsibilities that nature and God have appropriated since the beginning of existence: not only when to give life but when to terminate it.
We feel the dilemma in our guts: how do we preserve ourselves while protecting the human species? Pope John Paul II recognized that the end of life, and its possible extension through science and extraordinary (as opposed to ordinary) medicine, creates huge moral problems. In a 1998 message to an Austrian hospice, he tried to provide guidance:
[T]he decision actively to kill a human being is always an arbitrary act, even when it is meant as an expression of solidarity and compassion. The sick person expects his neighbor to help him live his life to the very last and to end it, when God wills, with dignity. Both the artificial extension of human life and the hastening of death, although they stem from different principles, conceal the same assumption: the conviction that life and death are realities entrusted to human beings to be disposed of at will. This false vision must be overcome. It must be made clear again that life is a gift to be responsibly led in God's sight.
How long, then, should a life last?
A human life, with ordinary medical care, now lasts seven, eight or even nine decades, assuming good genes, good living conditions and the avoidance of violence. We arrive prepackaged on earth like cars designed by evolution or God or some other force larger than ourselves. We know we should use good fuel, change our oil, wash ourselves and avoid crashing into one another. We don't expect to redesign ourselves from a pick-up truck to a Mercedes, but we can pump ourselves up with the human equivalent of satellite radios or navigation systems or better engines. We can provide ourselves with air bags and restraints. We even can add monitors to tell us when to fill our tires, fix the cooling system and avoid certain routes. We (or our manufacturers) have built in warning systems intended to prevent stupid errors by causing pain.
Competition has forced both us and our cars to evolve in design and function. Efficient engines produce more power using less fuel. Had cars not adapted to the changing demands of travel and competition, we'd still be driving hand-cranked Model T's or gas-guzzling Edsels. We'd be using oil even faster than today -- and eventually we would revolt. No matter how cute the old cars, we rid ourselves of them in order to make room for the newer and better ones.
What if as humans we figure out a way to keep our old Model T bodies going forever, but with enhanced engines? Even better, what if we find a way to age more slowly, so that we spend far more time in the prime of life? According to biologists like de Grey, super-aging is possible simply by turning off death genes -- although "turning off death genes" is a gross oversimplification of DNA control.
In general, cells undergo a process similar to Detroit's planned obsolescence known as "apoptosis," a form of suicide caused when cells no longer function properly. Genes regulate both cell growth and death (i.e. the replication and termination) necessary to maintain homeostasis, or a constant level of cell function in the body. Genes not only trigger apoptosis, but also interfere with it when required. As the body ages, apoptosis itself may malfunction because of damage to the genes, or because something obstructs the pathways from genes to cell function, or because the genes themselves finally quit working. The malfunctions may cause a replication of defective cells or a fatal loss of cells without any replication.
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