Anti-Aging Research: Ethical and Religious Perspectives
So, is the problem with our culture that we are unable to infuse decay, dependency, and death with moral and spiritual value? Or should we strive against morbidity, decline, and death with scientific, theological, and ethical vigor?
With regard to western Christianity, Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica I, question 97, article 1) asked "Whether in the State of Innocence Man Would Have Been Immortal?" He responded by citing St. Paul (Romans 5:12, "By sin death came into the world.") and asserted that before sin the body was "incorruptable," that is, immortal.
It should come as no surprise that the great Renaissance Christian humanists extolled the advent of the scientific assault on aging and mortality, providing the original mandate of modern antiaging science. It therefore seems that the Christian tradition, like Judaism, is complex and ambivalent in its attitude toward so-called acceptable dying.
Thus, we must be careful not to overstate the religious and ethical arguments either for or against continued human life-span extension, nor prematurely reach uninformed or unimaginative closure on the issue. The future will be different from the present, but by how much? And how much will biological power over longevity lead us away from the wisdom of nature and human nature toward a dystopian vision of "fabricated man" in which the species is divided into those to whom the technology of radical life extension is available and those of a lower class to whom such technology is unavailable? How will intergenerational relations and justice between the generations be affected? What sort of character would one expect to find in people who grasp at radical life extension, rather than accepting the naturalness of dying within the current life span?
No issue of human "enhancement" is more pointed both ethically and religiously than the potential application of radical antiaging technologies. The issue is only further complicated by the libertarian and entrepreneurial interests that would make such enhancement available according to one's ability to pay, by the potential for disturbing class division, and by the potential protraction of morbidity and even of severe dysfunction. The issue of human cloning appears relatively minor in comparison.
STEPHEN G. POST
See also CELLULAR AGING; GENETICS; LIFE SPAN EXTENSION; THEORIES OF BIOLOGICAL AGING: DNA DAMAGE; THEORIES OF BIOLOGICAL AGING: ERROR CATASTROPHE.
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