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Living Forever: Is It Really Worth It?

By John Clarke

This was an essay I wrote last year about the ethics involved with curing the ageing process. A worthy topic of dis­cus­sion, I hope you’ll agree. I thought it was alright, so here it is, sans ref­er­ences.

“O brave new world that hath such people in't!”

Brave New World

One way to define ageing is an increased chance of dying as time pro­gresses as a result of cumu­lat­ive natural changes and degrad­a­tion of the body. There­fore a cure for ageing wouldn’t simply be a cure for all of the most common dis­eases asso­ci­ated with old age, such as cancer, heart disease and so on, but rather a cure for the under­ly­ing cause of the body being more sus­cept­ible to those dis­eases. Even if we could cure cancer or heart disease, the disease itself may not kill you, but some­thing else would, as the body would still have accu­mu­lated years of stress and damage making it increas­ingly more likely to fail. Instead, a cure for ageing itself would mean pre­ven­tion (and even reversal) of the ageing process, ensur­ing a state of per­petual youth for those that partake.

As such, the incred­ibly complex ethical con­sid­er­a­tions for such a cure are echoed through­out a number of social and polit­ical issues, calling into ques­tion the rights of the current gen­er­a­tion over future gen­er­a­tions, the rights of the indi­vidual versus the rights of the society and the purpose of life itself.

Overpopulation

The primary concern that springs to the mind of most people when the topic of curing old age is dis­cussed is over­pop­u­la­tion. Already, the pop­u­la­tion is growing expo­nen­tially, even when the major­ity of people are dying before they reach 100. If people are living for double that amount of time and repro­duc­tion con­tin­ues at its current rate, surely we will run out of room sooner than if people were dying before 100? It follows then, that we would exhaust that same amount of hab­it­able space even quicker should life expect­ancy be increased further, to say 500 or in the thou­sands, provided that the rate of child­birth remained the same.
This idea of cramped living con­di­tions con­jures up an image of Vic­torian style slums or today’s “High Density Living” solu­tion to the same problem in Hong Kong, where the concept of your own space outside has almost dis­ap­peared. Not only does that sound uncom­fort­able with a dimin­ished sense of privacy, but the more people there are in any given area, the more easily and more likely it is that infec­tious dis­eases will spread. So how can this problem be resolved? By drastic­ally redu­cing the birth rate.

Controlling Birth Rate

It would appear that the only option besides killing a large pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion every so often is to place a limit on the rate of child birth for society as a whole. On the surface, this sug­gests that the gen­er­a­tion that decides not to have chil­dren so they can extend their own life are making an immoral selfish choice, but let us first take a look at how society handles this issue today.

In 2004, the average number of chil­dren per married couple in the UK is approx­im­ately 1.8. It is import­ant to realise that this is not a phys­ical limit imposed by the human body, but an amount which is con­veni­ent. With the use of birth control and abor­tions, we can decide when it would be appro­pri­ate for us to have a child and how many chil­dren we have overall. The point here is that by choos­ing when to have a child based on factors such as fin­an­cial sta­bil­ity, we already are being selfish when it comes to repro­duc­tion. The world at present is rife with examples of people putting their career (and hence their own sat­is­fac­tion and fin­an­cial gain) ahead of their future chil­dren, which we do not tend to see a problem with. This hypo­crisy extends even further when it comes to the stigma of under­age preg­nancy – if we as a society should self­lessly put our poten­tial off­spring before ourselves, surely we should be repro­du­cing as early as pos­sible, no matter what the cost to ourselves? Appar­ently not. What may seem selfish to some may be per­fectly accept­able to others. Unfor­tu­nately, it is never clear where the line should be drawn with most ethical dilem­mas, and this is no excep­tion.

Selfish or oth­er­wise, there are other press­ing matters relat­ing to this kind of pop­u­la­tion control that must also be dis­cussed. For example, who decides who should repro­duce and when? Even China’s notori­ous “One Child Policy” is not enough to curb pop­u­la­tion growth. Accord­ing the British Medical Journal in 2006, “China still has one million more births than deaths every five weeks”, so to prevent over­pop­u­la­tion, the average number of chil­dren per family would have to be reduced to far less than one to even keep the pop­u­la­tion growing at the same rate as China’s is now. Since it’s not pos­sible for every family to give birth to a rather low per­cent­age of one child, the respons­ib­il­ity of decid­ing who could repro­duce and when would have to fall to someone, or some spe­cified group of people, leaving the poten­tial system open to all manner of imper­fec­tions. This could include bribery, black­mail, human error and any other form of cor­rup­tion, which is par­tic­u­larly import­ant with matters as fun­da­mental as this. My lack of faith in human­ity being able to think up and imple­ment the perfect system for this situ­ation is still not the most import­ant concern, however.

Assum­ing that some method of control was neces­sary and in place, some people would simply not be per­mit­ted to repro­duce for the interests of society. Not just limited to one child, but not at all. Cur­rently, though, people who decide not to have chil­dren, or limit the number they have, retain their right to choose, no matter who may think it immoral; but if society decided the major­ity wanted to live forever, and the right to repro­duce was some­thing worth sac­ri­fi­cing, the choice would then belong to the society and not the indi­vidual. Many people see the point of life as having chil­dren, and could imagine life as worth­less and hollow in hind­sight should they not have had their chil­dren. The idea of poten­tially remov­ing what point a lot of people saw in life from those people is one big step up from allow­ing people to choose when they have chil­dren them­selves.

Equality & Prejudice

A further ethical topic in need of dis­cus­sion is just how wide­spread this cure for ageing would be. The two factors that determ­ine just how far we can expect this cure to reach are choice and avail­ab­il­ity. The former addresses the ques­tion of whether or not the choice would be left up to the indi­vidual or decided by the major­ity.

If it is a major­ity that decide the fate of quite pos­sibly all of human kind, this decision and all of its implic­a­tions as out­lined here could have a pro­foundly neg­at­ive impact upon that minor­ity, however small in number they may be. That minor­ity that would have nor­mally refused treat­ment if the decision was up to the indi­vidual could still be forced not to repro­duce by the gov­ern­ment for example, as men­tioned pre­vi­ously. If the major­ity voted against it, there would no doubt be ways that par­tic­u­larly rich and power­ful people could still acquire the treat­ment.

If the decision was left up to the indi­vidual, some people opting for exten­ded life and others not, it is easy to see how society as we know it may be torn in two in a fashion not too dis­sim­ilar to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: a com­pletely state-con­trolled “utopia” on one side, and the “savages” on the other, who opt out of the appar­ent bene­fits that such advances may bring. It is not too far fetched to imagine health care for the elderly refused with treat­ment being the only option, or perhaps a lack of work or housing. We already fear pre­ju­dice and ill treat­ment as a result of genomic sequen­cing, some­thing that can be kept a secret, but whether or not you’ve taken a cure for ageing could not be hidden. There is an incent­ive for com­pan­ies to hire employ­ees who have taken the treat­ment over people who have not – no pension plans, a reduc­tion of staff turnover, a con­tin­ued increase in skills without the need to retrain new people. One person doing one job for 150 years will likely be a lot better at that job than someone who has done it for only 50 years, so why wouldn’t com­pan­ies dis­crim­in­ate against those that opt?

The second factor, avail­ab­il­ity, needs to be thought about at an inter­na­tional level. Already, the avail­ab­il­ity of drugs in indus­tri­al­ised nations far exceeds that of devel­op­ing coun­tries, with over a third of the world’s pop­u­la­tion having no access to essen­tial drugs. There is no reason to suggest avail­ab­il­ity of a cure for ageing would be any dif­fer­ent, driving the wedge between the rich and poor even further. A pos­sible result could be war for land or resources between both sides of this divide once the need for pop­u­la­tion control and limited space become a factor for those with the cure.

Dying Peacefully

One topic we’ve not touched on so far is death. If we remove the natural cap that the aging process forces upon us, then there won’t neces­sar­ily be a maximum age we can live to. However, death from any­thing not related to age would still occur. Cur­rently, we think of death as an inev­it­able natural process although the causes of death can be many and varied. When asked to think about death and how they would like to die, the major­ity of people hope for a peace­ful death during their sleep, at the end of a long and ful­filling life, and without pain. As we’ve already dis­cussed, how ful­filled your life may be could already be com­prom­ised by denying you the right to bear chil­dren, so what about the rest of our ideal scen­ario? A long life? Yes. But pain-free in your sleep? That’s another story.

After dying of old age, the only causes of death that remain involve acci­dents, murder and other dis­eases that can affect anyone, not just the elderly. Dis­count­ing instant­an­eous (but still grue­some) death, any other situ­ation in which a life is about to be ended will undoubtedly be accom­pan­ied by fear and pain. This is not to suggest that fear and pain are not part of dying of old age, but any hopes of peace­fully dying in your sleep would be shattered. As people get older, the thought of death becomes more and more a factor in their life as some­thing they have to come to terms with, but this will no longer be the case. Death will only be asso­ci­ated with terror and pain; with lying in hos­pit­als fed through a tube; cer­tainly without peace.

Leg­al­ising and act­ively sup­port­ing euthanasia, on the other hand, would be the only accept­able solu­tion to this problem. Only then would the problem of the per­cep­tion of death being neces­sar­ily neg­at­ive be alle­vi­ated, but this raises yet more ethical prob­lems, par­tic­u­larly among reli­gious com­munit­ies.

Conclusion

A cure for old age may bring with it the promise of an undefined limit to humanity’s lifespan, allow­ing us to do more than we ever thought pos­sible; read more books, watch more films, and finally build that shed you’ve been talking about, among other things. On the surface, this seems idyllic, but only when you begin to scratch the surface do you reveal a swamp of ethical con­cerns that muddies this pic­tur­esque vision of the future. Living forever may require our lives to change so sig­ni­fic­antly that life might not be worth living in the first place.

It would seem that having our cake and eating it is simply not feas­ible. Would you really want to live forever if you could never eat cake again?

***

I’d love to hear your com­ments and opin­ions.

.

32 Responses to Living Forever: Is It Really Worth It?

  1. old mouse says:

    humans, as a rule only spend 20 years in adoles­cence. Yet we spend 30 or more years in declin­ing health and mental func­tion. Shrink­ing the amount of time we spend in our dotage would be a good thing because people could con­tinue to con­trib­ute by employ­ment, cre­at­ive works, and guid­ance at a much higher level and for a longer period of time than they can today.

    I know that younger people com­plain a lot about how “old timers” get in the way of their desire for power and climb­ing the organ­iz­a­tional hier­archy. Exten­ded well-being will make this worse and that’s okay. Elim­in­at­ing the normal, non­pro­duct­ive method of reward­ing people will drive the devel­op­ment of ways of reward­ing people for doing what they’re good at without stop­ping them from doing it.

    In the “flying car” future, maybe one solu­tion to people living forever is that life exten­ded people must move off planet. While it will cause a brain drain. People with exper­i­ence are exactly the folks you want start­ing up new centers of human exist­ence.

    anyway, I’m not going to worry about it because it prob­ably won’t happen in my life­time.

  2. Ron says:

    Nice website! And good ethical-stance on the issue.

    I call that life-extend­ing drug the ulti­mate ego-inflat­ing drug. That’s all it is. We might think that we improved control over our life expect­an­cies but does that really change any­thing at all?

    That change will ripple out­wards and will come back at us in one form or another — no need to be bib­lical here, it’s simply a matter of tweak­ing vari­ables (life expect­ancy, pop­u­la­tion size, etc) in a system (Earth) with a def­in­ite amount of resources.

    What are these effects going to look like? Answer: Whatever they are, we can’t escape them since we form an integ­ral part of this planet’s ecology.

    Are we ready to pay such a price for boost­ing our human egos for a couple more years of old life?

  3. Thomas says:

    I say, who the f#$% is anyone else to make my ‘ethical’ decisions for me about the length of my life? I sin­cerely doubt the vast major­ity of people on this planet will even avail them­selves of the tech­no­logy once it becomes avail­able, so many of these argu­ments are moot. Frankly, I wish Thomas Jef­fer­son was alive today — perhaps this country wouldn’t be so f#$&&$ up. Someone should hang around to bear witness to the follies of their day to future gen­er­a­tions. Aging is the ulti­mate “ter­minal illness” to conquer — now death itself becomes a choice, not some­thing unknow­able yet ines­cap­able. I look forward to the chal­lenge of such.

  4. Peter says:

    The idea of over­pop­u­la­tion is always droned out when we talk about curing aging. Shoot­ing the argu­ment down is like shoot­ing ducks in a bucket. This even if we accept the assump­tion of a pop­u­la­tion explo­sion despite the fact that an increas­ing number of coun­tries are showing neg­at­ive pop­u­la­tion growth. For one thing, there is a strong neg­at­ive cor­rel­a­tion between longev­ity and birthrate when you look at dif­fer­ent coun­tries. For another, if a cure for aging can also be applied to sperm and ova, then people may live to 200 and have their 2 kids at 100 instead of living to 60 and having their 2 kids at 30. That way, the earth’s pop­u­la­tion would increase 0.3 times as fast. For another, people may not race into having chil­dren because their bio­lo­gical clock is ticking. For another, having longer careers will give indi­vidu­als more time to make the advances that will allow us to sustain larger pop­u­la­tions.

    > Many people see the point of life as having chil­dren, and could imagine life as worth­less and hollow in hind­sight should they not have had their chil­dren.

    Are we then required to grow old because some people are unable to find ful­fill­ment in life? There are some people who cannot have chil­dren for various reasons. They have to find other means of ful­fill­ment.

    My comment to all these “bioeth­i­cists” is that if you do not like the new tech­no­logy then do not take advant­age of it.

    Ron> Are we ready to pay such a price for boost­ing our human egos for a couple more years of old life?

    How is a cure for aging going to increase OLD life? Why do so many critics of curing aging see curing aging as extend­ing OLD life? Can the logical con­tra­dic­tion be any more obvious?

  5. Dave D says:

    You’ve con­vinced me. Because of the danger of over­pop­u­la­tion we should go back to life expect­an­cies of 100 years ago and ban any advances in medi­cine that extend life expect­ancy. Maybe we shouldn’t allow anyone to live over 50? That’s long enough for anyone to live — over twice the life expect­ancy of 1000 years ago! Don’t agree?! Ok, then we need to solve over­pop­u­la­tion in a real­istic way, not by lim­it­ing how long people can live!

    Lim­it­ing life expect­an­cies doesn’t solve the problem anyway, it just delays it. I only see two ways to solve the problem, enforce a birth rate equal to the death rate, or expand beyond the planet. Killing people who want to live by enfor­cing a death rate, either by killing them dir­ectly, or lim­it­ing their life expect­an­cies is immoral; enfor­cing a low birth rate is prob­ably pos­sible, but also has moral issues (with luck it might be unne­ces­sary); and leaving the planet is the best, and maybe only, option in the long term.

  6. Adam says:

    I could write an essay on how all four of your argu­ments are wrong, whether on a factual or moral basis. However I’m just content with point­ing out that whether or not immor­tal­ity is a sound decision to make, it’s an individual’s decision and no-one should make it for them; that would be murder.

  7. Jacob says:

    It doesn’t really matter. A bio­lo­gical carbon based body is tem­por­ary, in the future when con­scious porting becomes more feas­ible, many people will be leaving their bodies and enter­ing new bodies, mech­an­ical bodies, free of disease and pain. This is the next step in evol­u­tion, the merging of man and machine and the ulti­mate trans­fer all together, it’s inev­it­able.

  8. Skycake says:

    “It would seem that having our cake and eating it is simply not feas­ible. Would you really want to live forever if you could never eat cake again?”

    I laughed out loud when you actu­ally invoked skycake as a danger for life exten­sion: See this video of Patton Oswalt explain­ing: http://​www​.youtube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​5​5​h​1​F​O​8​V​_3w

  9. Marnie says:

    You seem to be assum­ing that every person would take advant­age of a cure for ageing if it existed.

  10. Steward says:

    Quite enjoyed the essay, was a great read, even if some of your points are a little weak.

    However, I’m sur­prised to find you didn’t point out how some of our organs would deteri­or­ate the longer we live, despite the reversal of the aging process. Human brains can only hold so many memor­ies, and even­tu­ally one would reach their limit. I’m pos­it­ive after a few hundred years you could go crazy just because your mind can’t handle the mental and emo­tional stress of many years’ exper­i­ence and thoughts. Hell, the boredom of living so long might just waste the point in extend­ing your life in the first place.

    I suppose my point is, that if you wish for eternal life, just be aware that the grass is not entirely greener, moral con­texts be damned. It doesn’t matter if you can’t die, if your entire earth becomes hell itself.

  11. Luke says:

    @Steward, the burden of proof is on you where the boredom issue is con­cerned, as nobody has ever lived long enough for it to be a factor. Also please notice that nobody is talking about eternal life; it totally doesn’t follow from curing aging. There is always risk of acci­dental death, hom­icide, and suicide.

    As to organs getting old, that is what aging *is* and what would need to be cured to fix it, so you’re just arguing in circles there. Repla­cing old organs by regrow­ing them from DNA is actu­ally a near term tech­no­logy. The brain is the only organ you can’t dir­ectly replace, hence the need to really good stem cell ther­apies.

  12. Jukka Vaijärvi says:

    Inter­est­ing to see that some­body else has philo­sof­ized about the eternal life. I would like to add few points to the dis­cus­sion, firstly Thomas Jef­fer­son living forever was men­tioned but all the same we could have Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and a col­lec­tion of other tyrants living forever, which could also mean that the over­pop­u­la­tion problem would not exist. What makes a big dif­fer­ence should a “civil­iz­a­tion” based on eternal life be an utterly boring place, same day after day, is space travel and pos­sib­il­ity to col­on­ize other star systems. Because of vast dis­tances people livin etern­ally would be best suited for this project. But even then boredom could be a problem, I could still imagine sui­cides hap­pen­ing in eternal life world. Not the number of days, but the quality of those should be emphas­ized.

  13. Luke says:

    @Jukka I agree that quality years are as import­ant as more years, but if we had to choose a problem to solve FIRST, it is making people live longer. If people are con­sist­ently so unhappy they commit suicide often, the depres­sion (or boredom) problem is obvi­ously next on the agenda…

    Dic­tator-tyrants are just as vul­ner­able to violent death as anyone else, and prob­ably more likely to attract that fate to them­selves…

    I don’t think over­pop­u­la­tion is a problem unless people over-repro­duce. We’ve respon­ded well to the reduc­tion in infant mor­tal­ity over the last hundred years. Perhaps most people won’t want kids, or will wait and plan for hun­dreds of years before having a family.

  14. GK says:

    Not a single cita­tion for any of the ‘facts’? Epic fail. 🙁

  15. Steve D says:

    Don’t ever say “forever” to a geo­lo­gist — we have a dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent take on the word than every­one else. You left out acci­dents and hom­icide. The chance of dying in an acci­dent is about 1 in 3000 per year. After 3000 years, you’d have a better than 50 – 50 chance of dying in an acci­dent and after 10,000 years it would be close to certain. 10,000 years is an eyeblink in my time frame. You wouldn’t even live to see the next Ice Age. You will not live forever — period. And with disease and aging out of the picture, people might feel free to indulge in riskier beha­vior, raising the risk level.

  16. S.A. says:

    Maybe some nice people would live extra long lives, but so would the jerks.

    Who would want to work for so long? Be a greeter at Walmart for two hundred years because jobs are so scarce? Be a fin­an­cial burden on your great-great-great-great grand­chil­dren?

    If people lived that long we’d just murder each other for the quickly dis­ap­pear­ing resources, or because our mental health couldn’t take all that stress for hun­dreds of years.

    Frankly, it sounds like a a crappy idea. We die and go on to some­thing else for a very good reason.

  17. Luke says:

    With good safety tech, living thou­sands of years or even mil­lions is not out of the ques­tion. But I agree with Steve that forever is too strong a term for a lifespan we can expect.

    @S.A. You need to update your picture of what it is like to be young for your whole life instead of suf­fer­ing a hor­ribly dis­fig­ur­ing and dis­abling disease (aging) towards the end. It’s about quality of life not just quant­ity. Also your talk of dis­ap­pear­ing resources just trans­lates to extreme pess­im­ism about recyc­ling tech (and doesn’t go away just because it is a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion exper­i­en­cing the problem).

    Jerks would be given more time to grow up. Better therapy would be avail­able. You have to take all that into account. But in any case it’s a stupid point because if you wouldn’t shoot someone for being a jerk, you can’t endorse aging as a means of clear­ing the planet of them! It is not logic­ally con­sist­ent… It’s also supremely unfair to the non-jerks; like drop­ping an atomic bomb on a city to kill all the rapists and mur­der­ers that it con­tains.

  18. Mark says:

    I’d love to live forever, I wouldn’t want every­one to though, not unless we were at the point we were able to col­on­ize other planets or some­thing.

  19. Dean says:

    Will there be bacon? If I can live forever but not have bacon than forget it.

  20. AJ says:

    You lost me at sug­gest­ing that waiting or not pro­cre­at­ing at all is somehow selfish and immoral.

    What was selfish was my parents having three chil­dren with zero ability to provide for them through­out their child­hood.

  21. Eddie says:

    Clearly, indus­tri­al­iz­ing murder is the best option. Every, say, ten years every­one will be eval­u­ated for pro­ductiv­ity, and those who fall behind are culled and recycled to keep every­one else healthy and young. 😉

    To my mind, the main point I’m think­ing of would be if such a process would be per­man­ent, a treat­ment or a cure. As things go, treat­ments are more prof­it­able than cures. If this anti-aging treat­ment costs half a year’s earning for a middle-class person, but only lasts ten years, that’s an expo­nen­tially greater profit than a cure that costs double but lasts indef­in­itely. Given the way the world works, a treat­ment seems more likely than a cure, which seems to lessen the gravity of issues such as over­crowding, scarcity of resources, and your mind buck­ling under the strain of ten life­times worth of menial labour.

    It could also be a Repo Men scen­ario, with pro­hib­it­ively high costs, but anyone can be approved for a loan. If you fall behind on pay­ments, they come and take back their product and pos­sibly kill you in the process. I can see how some­thing like this could happen, where you see a pricetag of $613, 299.99, with a plan to pay it in monthly incre­ments of $800 for the next 766 months, give or take. What you don’t notice is the 8% interest rate, which may increase how much you have to pay off tenfold by the time those 766 months elapse.
    If death is no longer a cer­tainty, taxes would become moreso.

    I can only hope that a cure, or treat­ment, for aging would result in a less fast-paced life­style than I see so many people fol­low­ing. Who knows, maybe this could be the cure for rush hour, but hope­fully not spur a spread of apathy.

    I wonder if life impris­on­ment would be con­sidered a worse pun­ish­ment if you can live indef­in­itely?

    To con­tinue this ram­bling, I can see arti­fi­cial age­less­ness having more merit than bio­lo­gical age­less­ness. It seems to me that elec­tri­city is easier to gen­er­ate and store than food is, which could result in there being a much higher sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion limit, and also solve over­pop­u­la­tion. Unless someone invents a sexbot that can get preg­nant, at which point the whole issue becomes more con­fused.
    Once you crack down­load­ing a con­scious­ness, I can see many con­di­tions and dis­ab­il­it­ies being cured almost by default. Para­lysis, acquired sensory damage and degrad­a­tion, cancers and other bio­lo­gical con­di­tions, et cetera, seems to me that robot bodies would cure those. However, I can imagine how people might react badly to the idea of putting their ‘life’ in the hands of a soft­ware program. Then there’s the reli­gious issues, oh boy the reli­gious firestorms that would ensue. Let the robot revolu­tion begin!

  22. g says:

    inter­est­ing read, some thoughts i had:

    about your point about people feeling ful­fill­ment in life being coupled to having chil­dren. i think this ful­fill­ment is tied to the length of our lives and the fact that we do die. when we have chil­dren we feel we are leaving a piece of ourselves behind and in some­ways we live on. if we had exten­ded lives i think that feeling would dimin­ish in cor­rel­a­tion with the length of our lives. as others have written with increas­ing quality and length of life we see an increase in the age at which people pro­cre­ate. like peter said if we could live to 200 you would prob­ably see people having chil­dren at around the 100 year mark, thus slowing down pop­u­la­tion growth in a natural manner.

    the other thought that doesn’t seem to be talked about is the slowing down of the genetic evol­u­tion­ary process that would occur with decreas­ing inter­vals between new gen­er­a­tions. though this would prob­ably be replaced by drug and gene ther­apies and a closer integ­ra­tion of our carbon based bodies with silicon based hard­ware to provide evol­u­tion­ary advances to the current gen­er­a­tion that may or may not have occurred nat­ur­ally in the next gen­er­a­tion

  23. Andrew says:

    Have a read of the “Hitch­hikers Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams and his char­ac­ter “Wow­bag­ger The Infin­itely Pro­longed”. It provides an inter­est­ing per­spect­ive…

  24. Miranda says:

    Copied and pasted from an email.

    [quote]
    (I suspect that I may dis­agree with the article’s author on various points, so I’ll comment on them while reading.)

    Indeed, a cure for ageing would ideally imply eternal youth/​beauty. *nods*

    ‘the rights of the current gen­er­a­tion over the future gen­er­a­tion’: people who are only poten­tial people and who do not yet exist do not have rights, given the infin­ite number of poten­tial people in (non-)existence. When people of both gen­er­a­tions are alive at the same time, pre­sum­ably they should be granted the same rights as equal members of society, neither over the other.

    ‘the rights of the indi­vidual versus the rights of the society’: Society being com­posed of indi­vidu­als, the rights of a society might be said to be the summed rights of all the indi­vidu­als who make it up. As a country exists for its people, not those people for their country, it makes little sense to dis­ad­vant­age all ostens­ibly for the sake of all (pos­sible excep­tions being when there’s a clear way in which all in fact advant­aged (?) by this seeming dis­ad­vant­age­ment).

    ‘Over­pop­u­la­tion’: as acknow­ledged, this is not a new issue. This same argu­ment about crowded­ness can and has (I think?) been used about all tech­no­lo­gies which allow greater pro­duc­tion of food or longer lifespans or greater pro­por­tions of chil­dren who live to adult­hood, et cetera.

    Cap­it­al­ist­ic­ally, a too-large pop­u­la­tion will auto­mat­ic­ally prune itself down to meet the amount of resources avail­able to sustain it. Socially, pop­u­la­tion control meas­ures seem appro­pri­ate, as – to some degree – are or have been in place in China. Polit­ic­ally, social­ists will prob­ably keep giving free money to the poor and unem­ployed who breed rampantly, in exchange for their votes, but these are all exist­ing prob­lems to deal with during normal exist­ence.

    …I recall a certain matter about a person pre­dict­ing mass star­va­tion due to pop­u­la­tion increase, not being able to imagine the factors which then occurred and rendered it sus­tain­able… however, both (?) dir­ec­tions are acknow­ledge­able as appro­pri­ate.

    In short: over­pop­u­la­tion-related terror is not new; the same con­cerns would be applied sim­il­arly shortly anyway; either try to bring down all medical and other advances which support pop­u­la­tion growth, or try to bring down none and instead do some­thing about birth rates dir­ectly, or do nothing and hope that it will even­tu­ally be self-lim­it­ing. Even if it’s called immor­tal­ity, a human (or non-human, for that matter) body can only go so long with no money and no way of replen­ish­ing its stored energy.

    *resumes reading; rests head in hand for a moment* Ah, that was acknow­ledged.

    ‘the only option’: there’s the pos­sib­il­ity of rel­ev­ant tech­no­lo­gical advances, col­on­isa­tion of other planets, et cetera.

    Reas­on­able point­ing out that in many places the birth rate has already been self-limited. There not being enough chil­dren is only a concern in places of drastic­ally decreas­ing pop­u­la­tion, or where there are fears of having to support an unwork­ing elderly gen­er­a­tion without having enough young workers to do so. Indeed, it’s sim­il­arly sur­pris­ing to the above polit­ical trend that, despite stated concern in some places, no meas­ures are being taken to encour­age the oppos­ite trend.

    Odd to refer to choos­ing not to have a child as selfish, par­tic­u­larly in the context of over­pop­u­la­tion con­cerns. Is the parent who adopts a par­ent­less child instead of cre­at­ing yet another citizen to feed selfish?

    Ah, a mention of China’s attempts. ‘not enough to curb pop­u­la­tion growth’… why, if each gen­er­a­tion is half or less the size of the last?

    ‘but if society decided the major­ity wanted to live forever, and the right to repro­duce was some­thing worth sac­ri­fi­cing, the choice would then belong to the society and not the indi­vidual’: this does not neces­sar­ily follow. Immor­tal­ity could, say, be with­held by those who had had chil­dren and those who chose it become unable to have chil­dren.

    The phrase may have been refer­ring to soci­etal pop­u­la­tion decisions.

    If each non-immor­tal family has a few chil­dren who choose to become immor­tal every gen­er­a­tion, the number of immor­tal people will keep increas­ing in any case.

    In many cases, the right to have chil­dren seems some­thing that some parents do not deserve to have, and in many cases chil­dren have to be taken away by child ser­vices because of this, or else die when neg­lected by them.

    Largely, the ‘over­pop­u­la­tion’ thoughts above apply.

    In the worst case scen­ario, you can permit any family to repro­duce, but at the forfeit of any and all gov­ern­ment support. They are then free to live and die as they wish, without being a drain on society. Even if a child pro­duced suffers and then dies, it will have existed and then returned to its pre­vi­ous state, which can be argued as being prefer­able to never exist­ing in the first place; finding this not prefer­able can lead dir­ectly to ending the process sooner, and reach­ing the same end-point as if it had been prefer­able. Altern­at­ively, it can be argued that sub­ject­ively there is no dis­tinc­tion between not exist­ing and having never existed, as the subject is not in a pos­i­tion to have sub­ject­ive exper­i­ences.

    ‘Equal­ity and Pre­ju­dice’: the major­ity forcing minor­it­ies to do things against their will tends to go badly, depend­ing on context. Better to leave those do not follow to them­selves, and allow them to destroy them­selves if they so will (or act as if they do).

    ‘Torn in two’: an advant­age of planet col­on­isa­tion. There’s already such dis­sim­il­ar­ity though with the English class system, or in the dif­fer­ences between coun­tries.

    ‘pain-free in your sleep’: carbon monox­ide is rel­ev­ant. This is assum­ing that these people want to die, rather than all shoot­ing for immor­tal­ity and/​or living long enough to attain safety through redund­ancy.

    The ‘only accept­able solu­tion’ claim seems short-sighted.

    It’s a common thread through­out history that those who find life worth living live, while those who don’t do not.
    Not having cake may be sad, but the pleas­ure of intel­lec­tual dis­cov­ery (and oth­er­wise) trumps such straight­foward pleas­ures.

    …hmm, there’s a request for com­ments. I may copy and paste this.
    [/​quote]

  25. Dave D says:

    @ S.A.
    “[…snipped stuff about how awful a long life would be…] We die and go on to some­thing else for a very good reason.”

    This kind of comment is hil­ari­ous. It’s saying “living forever is bad because you are meant to die before you live forever”.

    Sorry, but anyone who wants an after-life has no busi­ness com­plain­ing about people who want to live a long actual life!

  26. Andrew says:

    over­pop­u­la­tion? is space migra­tion not a poten­tial option? too heretical?…naïve? i dunno i just like throw­ing things out their for dis­cus­sion…

  27. Adrian K says:

    Immor­tal­ity, apart from being for society (pop­u­la­tion, employ­ment etc), is surely bad psy­cho­lo­gic­ally. Anyone who believes they will live forever or even beyond 150 must have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent atti­tude to life. The pro­spect of mor­tal­ity gives life more of a sense of urgency: why make the effort to start some­thing today when it can be put off till tomor­row when the con­di­tions might be better? Mor­tal­ity gives life focus.

    Then there’d be the problem with memor­ies becom­ing frag­men­ted and con­fused. You’d have to copy them into some digital storage, which would either be an addendum to the brain. Or if a sep­ar­ate store then does that storage device become the real you if the memor­ies are in a living network — a program that can run at any time?

    I think from about 120yrs most people would find that they have done everything real­ist­ic­ally pos­sible, and with no new exper­i­ences life becomes too famil­iar, until the ori­ginal memor­ies end up so cor­rup­ted that you lose any sense of your ori­ginal self.

  28. Luke says:

    If you foresee immor­tal­ity causing psy­cho­lo­gical prob­lems, learn psy­cho­logy… There could be good money in it.

  29. James says:

    To counter all your import­ant points…

    OVER­POP­U­LA­TION: You need to be more precise with your defin­i­tion of over­pop­u­la­tion. Yes the world pop­u­la­tion is increas­ing, however this is due to birth rates in devel­op­ing coun­tries. If you look at the birth rates in 1st world coun­tries they are actu­ally lower than the death rates, even with increased lifespan. Why is this? Edu­ca­tion is the answer, that and female lib­er­a­tion. Solving over­pop­u­la­tion may be as simple as intro­du­cing edu­ca­tion to poorer coun­tries

    CON­TROLLING BIRTHRATE
    You are wrong. There is no need to intro­duce birth control laws with a pop­u­la­tion of etern­ally youth­ful and well edu­cated cit­izens. As you know women tend to put off having chil­dren till later in life to focus on their careers, but are wary to have chil­dren before men­o­pause. If women are etern­ally youth­ful then they don’t need to worry about men­o­pause, meaning they will likely put off having chil­dren for a long time, thus lower­ing the birthrate even more.

    EQUAL­ITY & PRE­JU­DICE: You mention the fear of com­pan­ies getting their hands on genomic inform­a­tion. Laws have been intro­duced (at least in Britain) that pro­hibit com­pan­ies from getting their hands on that info. It is illegal to dis­crim­in­ate based on char­ac­ter­ist­ics indi­vidu­als have no control over. This is just a common sense issue that can easily be resolved in an ethical way.

    DYING PEACE­FULLY: Very few people in old age die peace­fully in their sleep. They are far more likely to have an agon­iz­ing death from stroke, cancer, organ failure, demen­tia etc. And even if they do die in their sleep, those last few years of old age are miser­able and painful. The answer to this is again very simple: euthanasia. Screw the reli­gious debate, every­one has a right to their life.

    In con­clu­sion eternal youth really is a pretty swell idea

    P.S. I found the tone of your essay con­des­cend­ing and bias. Espe­cially on the topic of abor­tion.

    Refs:
    http://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​F​e​r​t​i​l​i​t​y​_​a​n​d​_​i​n​t​e​l​l​i​g​e​nce
    http://​www​.genome​.gov/​1​1​5​1​0​227

  30. Glen says:

    Living forever means eternal life. Ending age related dis­eases is not living forever.

  31. Tony says:

    There’s this new idea I’m begin­ning to take a liking too that con­siders the pos­sib­il­ity of our civil­iz­a­tion being cata­pul­ted into a new, never-ending dimen­sion; one that if we did actu­ally live forever, con­siders just how bliss­ful our world might be. I saw this movie called “Solar Revolu­tion,” that encom­passes all of these notions. You can find the trailer at yekra​.com/​s​o​l​a​r​-​r​e​v​o​l​u​t​ion. It’s incred­ibly sig­ni­fic­ant and equally trippy stuff if at all inter­ested.

  32. abdul says:

    hi, as long we func­tion; we’re alive, when die; we’re old…

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