Anti-Aging Research: Ethical and Religious Perspectives
Cautious Ethical Optimism
The more optimistic ethical view is that there is no reason to be especially critical of the idea of extended lives, so long as a number of conditions can be met regarding health, including intact memory and cognition. There is in principle no religious or philosophical ethical proscription against extension of the human life span consistent with reasonable health. But a coherent first goal might be the extension of human life into the late eighties without the current plague of Alzheimer's disease, which afflicts an estimated 40 percent of those age eighty-five. Few people would welcome the protraction of such terrible morbidity in our efforts to extend life (Post). If science makes major progress against the progressive, irreversible, and chronic debilitating diseases of old age—especially diseases of neurodegeneration—then further developments in life extension might be welcomed by some.
Would it not be interesting to have Albert Einstein still available to students at 150 years of age? Would it not be of value to have a person of lucid mind who could tell historians directly about life in colonial America? If a person loves life and will be happy if it can be extended, then there is really no obvious reason for ethical criticism, or so the argument goes.
Rabbi Neil Gillman presents one Jewish perspective that is surely provocative, yet also quite coherent. Gillman argues that according to Judaism, there is nothing redemptive in death, which really is the enemy of life. Embodied life is inherently good and precious in God's eyes. Death is a chaotic force, argues Gillman, and Judaism affirms efforts to immortalize our bodily lives. Other rabbis, however, take a less sanguine view of radical life extension, pointing out the degree of wisdom in the natural intergenerational flow of life within society.
There has been a place for antiaging research and the goal of radical life extension in the history of science from the late 1890s. J. B. S. Haldane, the great Oxford University biologist, affirmed radical life extension in the 1930s with the publication of Possible Worlds, realizing that the implications of the then nascent biological revolution were immense as the species learns of the malleability of nature and of human nature. Yet this was precisely the future against which the Oxford theologian C. S. Lewis wrote in 1944. Thus, it is valuable to turn now to those who are most articulate and thoughtful in their warnings about the brave new world of antiaging and radical life extension, should it be a real possibility.
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