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Is More Life Always Better? The New Biology of Aging and the Meaning of Life, David Gems


Today I have read David Gems's paper, "Is More Life Always Better? The New Biology of Aging and the Meaning of Life," Hastings Cneter Report, July-August, 2003. Gems talks about various facets of life extension, biology of aging, and the meaning of life in the age of advanced biotechnology. The year 2003 was the year when Leon Kass's Presidential Report was published (and also the year my Painless Civlization was published in Japanese).

In the first section, he writes the following remark:

... I want to suggest that aging research raises philosophical questions about the shape and purpose of life that bioethics has thus far failed to address. (p.32)

I agree with him on this point. What we need is the philosophy of life in the age of advanced technology. He discusses a number of interesting points, and I believe each of them is indispensable to the discussion of the ethical aspect of life extension, however, I couldn't find a decisive clue to resolve difficult philosophical problems surrounding aging and immortality (but I want to hasten to add that his paper was really interesting and I have studied a lot from his argument).

Basically, he is in favor of life extension. What he fears most is the unfair distribution of life extension technology, especially the possibility that such technology could be monopolized by "the hands of a few undying individuals -- and particularly into the hands of tyrants" (p.38). He says:

Even under tyranny one can at least wait, and hope to outlive one's oppressor. For this reason alone, anti-aging treatments represent a very serious threat to humanity in the long term (p.34).

Then he examines the objections to life extension. Many people say that if we become immortal we will be bored with our life, but Gems doubts this assumption. He says he can imagine people who can continue to "enjoy endless repetition of the same experience" (p.35).

This argument made me think that people who are able to adapt to immortal society would be those who can enjoy endless repetition of the same experience, and those who cannot enjoy it might be automatically eliminated from such a society in the form of various types of suicide. Of course, it may be possible to alter someone's personality, by future genetic technology, into a new one which makes him/her fond of repetition. But isn't this nothing but a dystopia?

In the second half of his paper, Gems talks about age polyethism and the importance of the type of life plan. This is an interesting thought experiment. His last words are:

Thus, extension of lifespan might not simply be more of the same, but rather, it could create a larger foundation upon which a life of greater scope, possibility, and achievement may be constructed. (p.38)

Well, I have to say again that I am not a bioconservative, and I am not a Christian. I am agnostic and I want to support women's right to abortion. But I don't agree with the argument that life extension has no ethical or philosophical problems. I understand that I will have to articulate the reason why I think so. Please give me (plenty of) time to think. Anyway, I enjoyed Gems's paper. His discussion was really interesting and helpful.

Related post: *"The Burden and Blessing of Mortality" Hans Jonas
                    *John Harris, Immortal Ethics, generational cleansing

Photo: Toyo'oka, Hyogo, Japan

  -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

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very interesting, but I don't agree with you

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