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Anti-Aging Research: Ethical and Religious Perspectives

Cautious Ethical Optimism, The Goodness Of Natural Limits, Conclusions

The Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon was looking for the Fountain of Youth when he sailed across the Atlantic to the New World, and antiaging researchers continue the perennial quest (Van Tassel). It is also a quest that has attracted numerous venture capitalists and is the focus of a myriad of biotechnology companies. A definitional distinction is necessary here. The life expectancy of any species is the average length of life for all members of the species taken together. Human life expectancy in modern industrialized countries is close to eighty. The life span of any species is the longest period that any single member of that species has lived. Thus, the human life span is thought to be 120 to 125.

Antiaging researchers challenge the notion of a so-called natural life span as they learn more about the genetic mechanisms of cell aging and eventually intervene (Banks and Fossel; Fossel, 1998). Some argue that the human life span might be radically extended in the future, perhaps to several centuries. Yet other scientists, especially Leonard Hayflick, are skeptical of the empirical possibility of radical life extension. The claims of antiaging researchers have been over-stated, he argues. Survival to the age of reproductive success is the law of evolution, after which cellular and physiological disorder accelerate. Hayflick set the absolute maximum of the human life span at about 120 years, and predicts modest increase in life expectancy (perhaps to eighty-two years by the year 2050.) Aging, Hayflick contends, is not a disease and cannot be over-come. Debate over the possibility of radical life span extension continues.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 1