Project

Ethics of life extension and ageing

Goal: Given the greying of societies in both the developed and developing world, it is unsurprising that the ethics of ageing is a burgeoning field in contemporary ethics. This project maps the conceptual terrain, pointing to fruitful areas ripe for normative analysis.

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11

Project log

Christopher Simon Wareham
added a research item
Applied ethics is home to numerous productive subfields such as procreative ethics, intergenerational ethics and environmental ethics. By contrast, there is far less ethical work on ageing, and there is no boundary work that attempts to set the scope for ‘ageing ethics’ or the ‘ethics of ageing’. Yet ageing is a fundamental aspect of life; arguably even more fundamental and ubiquitous than procreation. To remedy this situation, I examine conceptions of what the ethics of ageing might mean and argue that these conceptions fail to capture the requirements of the desired subfield. The key reasons for this are, first, that they view ageing as something that happens only when one is old, thereby ignoring the fact that ageing is a process to which we are all subject, and second that the ageing person is treated as an object in ethical discourse rather than as its subject. In response to these shortcomings I put forward a better conception, one which places the ageing person at the centre of ethical analysis, has relevance not just for the elderly and provides a rich yet workable scope. While clarifying and justifying the conceptual boundaries of the subfield, the proposed scope pleasingly broadens the ethics of ageing beyond common negative associations with ageing.
Christopher Simon Wareham
added 4 research items
Epicurus argued that death can be neither good nor bad because it involves neither pleasure nor pain. This paper focuses on the deprivation account as a response to this Hedonist Argument. Proponents of the deprivation account hold that Epicurus's argument fails even if death involves no painful or plea-surable experiences and even if the hedonist ethical system, which holds that pleasure and pain are all that matter ethically, is accepted. I discuss four ob-jections that have been raised against the deprivation account and argue that this response to Epicurus's argument is successful once it has been sufficiently clarified.
Objections to life extension often focus on its effects for individual well-being. Prominent amongst these concerns is the possibility that life extending technologies will extend lifespan without preventing the ageing of the mind. Writers on the subject express the fear that life extending drugs will keep us physically youthful whilst our minds decay, succumbing to dementia, boredom, and loneliness. Generally these fears remain speculative, in part due to the absence of genuine life extending technologies. In this paper, however, I examine the implications of an existing life extension technology. Caloric restriction (CR) and drugs that mimic its effects, such as rapamycin, metformin and resveratrol have been shown to increase average and maximum lifespan in a wide variety of organisms, and seem likely to do so in humans. Moreover, some CR mimetic drugs (CRMs) are already widely used. This means that they present a pressing test case for fears about mental ageing in an extended life. Misgivings about mental ageing can be divided into biomedical factors such as the likelihood of brain ageing, and psychological factors such as loss of meaning and boredom. I argue that studies of CR suggest that brain ageing will be beneficially slowed. However, it is less clear that deleterious aspects of psychological ageing can be similarly retarded. I argue that this reduces the desirability of life extension unless major social changes can be made.
Caloric restriction mimetics (CRMs) are emerging biotechnologies that promise to substantially enhance human lifespan. CRMs like resveratrol, metformin and rapamycin have been extensively tested in animals and have undergone clinical trials in humans, with positive indications for extended lifespan. This raises important questions for individuals and society: Is it really better to have a longer life? Would life-extending biotechnologies contribute to social problems like overpopulation? Will CRMs increase the longevity gap between haves and havenots? Worryingly, many of these concerns are neglected, both in individual choices and in social policy. The imminent availability of interventions that substantially increase lifespan creates an urgent need for informed individual and policy decisions. As a step in this direction I focus on whether life extension by CRMs would make a person's life better. One of the greatest fears in this regard is that lifespan augmenting technologies would result in a prolonged old age, and an extended period spent in intolerably poor health. On the basis of empirical studies, I claim that CRMs will not result in worse health than is normally the case in old age. However, since they slow down the ageing process they will extend the period in which one is more susceptible to the diseases of old age. Though preferable to substantially worse health, prolonged old age may seem undesirable to some. I make the case that CRMs would most likely improve one's quality of life. This is because they would add to life's value by increasing the number of years spent in good health. Moreover, I argue that even years spent in worse health, above a certain level, can contribute to the goodness of life. These considerations mean that this emerging biotechnology is likely to increase both the quantity and quality of life, and should provide part of the basis for informed decisions about the individual consequences of extending lifespan using CRMs.
Christopher Simon Wareham
added 2 research items
In South Africa and abroad the elderly are systematically discriminated against at all levels of healthcare allocation decision-making. Such discrimination is perhaps surprising in light of the National Health Act and the Older Persons Act, which explicitly recognise the elderly as a vulnerable group whose equal rights require special protection. However, ethical theory and public opinion offer some reasons to think that discrimination against the elderly may be justified. This paper examines possible ethical grounds for age discrimination. I claim that there are very few cases in which the aged may be discriminated against, and that age alone is never sufficient grounds for discrimination.
Biological studies have demonstrated that it is possible to slow the ageing process and extend lifespan in a wide variety of organisms, perhaps including humans. Making use of the findings of these studies, this article examines two problems concerning the effect of life extension on population size and welfare. The first-the problem of overpopulation-is that as a result of life extension too many people will co-exist at the same time, resulting in decreases in average welfare. The second-the problem of underpopulation-is that life extension will result in too few people existing across time, resulting in decreases in total welfare. I argue that overpopulation is highly unlikely to result from technologies that slow ageing. Moreover, I claim that the problem of underpopulation relies on claims about life extension that are false in the case of life extension by slowed ageing. The upshot of these arguments is that the population problems discussed provide scant reason to oppose life extension by slowed ageing.
Christopher Simon Wareham
added a project goal
Given the greying of societies in both the developed and developing world, it is unsurprising that the ethics of ageing is a burgeoning field in contemporary ethics. This project maps the conceptual terrain, pointing to fruitful areas ripe for normative analysis.