Tragedy and Delight: The Ethics of Decelerated Ageing
Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences 2011 Jan 12; 366(1561): 108-12
Biogerontology is sometimes viewed as similar to other forms of biomedical research in that it seeks to understand and treat a pathological process. Yet the prospect of treating ageing is extraordinary in terms of the profound changes to the human condition that would result. Recent advances in biogerontology allow a clearer view of the ethical issues and dilemmas that confront humanity with respect to treating ageing. For example, they imply that organismal senescence is a disease process with a broad spectrum of pathological consequences in late life (causing or exacerbating cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease and many others). Moreover, in laboratory animals, it is possible to decelerate ageing, extend healthy adulthood and reduce the age-incidence of a broad spectrum of ageing-related diseases. This is accompanied by an overall extension of lifespan, sometimes of a large magnitude. Discussions of the ethics of treating ageing sometimes involve hand-wringing about detrimental consequences (e.g. to society) of marked life extension which, arguably, would be a form of enhancement technology. Yet given the great improvements in health that decelerated ageing could provide, it would seem that the only possible ethical course is to pursue it energetically. Thus, decelerated ageing has an element of tragic inevitability: its benefits to health compel us to pursue it, despite the transformation of human society, and even human nature, that this could entail.
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