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Is Hyperlongevity Immoral?

Over at Reason, Ronald Bailey tells us about a pair of philosophic treatises on the ethics of hyperlongevity. If Bailey’s explications are correct, at least one of them seems, to this commentator, a bit abstract bordering on absurd. To wit: Bailey writes that Philosopher John Davis, in as essay titled Life Extension and the Malthusian Objection, says: "….assumes a population of two types of people: Lees and Seans. Lees who want to live a long time are 17 percent of the population and Seans who prefer shorter lives are 83 percent. Seans live an average of 100 years, while Lees using life extension treatments live an average of 600 years. Then you add up the life years of a population of 100 Lees and Seans, and find that 17 Lees would enjoy a total of 8,500 life years while 83 Seans enjoy only 8,300 life years."

And I should accept this premise why?

Old hand holding pillMeanwhile, again according to Bailey, Russell Blackford has written a response to claims by bioethicist Peter Singer that radical life extension is immoral. Bailey: "Singer begins by setting up a thought experiment in which researchers develop a pill that will double life expectancy to 150 years. He assumes that people have an average happiness level of 5 out of a possible 10 during the first 75 years. The life extension pill maintains its users at about the same level of health and mental acuity as a healthy 60-year-old for the next 75 years, reducing their happiness level to 4 for that period."

So what if I assume that happiness is cranked up to 11, but Lee and Sean died in a car crash and were sewn back together again with the inclusion of a nasty AI program to do the bidding of the Russian Mafia so they could prey upon the relaxed and happy long living populace? I mean, if being a credible philosopher means you can start with any premise and then build your case from there, where do I sign up?

I think most people will want hyperlongevity because the treatments will make them very healthy, or at least healthier. It may even come along at first as a side effect for treatments related to old age. We would probably not let people suffer from Alzheimers or cancer or heart disease for ethical reasons, but perhaps some of us would for economic reasons. There’s your ethical debate, it seems to me… not whether to save healthy lives for as long as possible, but whether we let some people die from want of a ticket. And even there, the impact of other technologies on the degree of available real wealth will have some impact (hopefully, a big impact) on how people deal with that.

17 Responses

  1. March 5, 2013

    […] week’s blog looks into the ethics of longevity, and extending lifespan beyond the current ‘normal’. It’s quite a big question on most […]

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