Life Extension Research: An Analysis of Contemporary Biological Theories and Ethical Issues
Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 2006; 9(1): 87-96
Many opinions and ideas about aging exist. Biological theories have taken hold of the popular and scientific imagination as potential answers to a "cure" for aging. However, it is not clear what exactly is being cured or whether aging could be classified as a disease. Some scientists are convinced that aging will be biologically alterable and that the human lifespan will be vastly extendable. Other investigators believe that aging is an elusive target that may only be "statistically" manipulatable through a better understanding of the operational principles of systems situated within complex environments. Not only is there confusion over definitions but also as to the safety of any potential intervention. Curing cell death, for example, may lead to cell cancer. The search for a cure for aging is not a clearly beneficial endeavour. This paper will first, describe contemporary ideas about aging processes and second, describe several current life extension technologies. Third, it analyses these theories and technologies, focusing on two representative and differing scientific points of view. The paper also considers the public health dilemma that arises from life extension research and examines two issues, risk/benefit ratio and informed consent, that are key to developing ethical guidelines for life extension technologies.
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