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Self-determination and the Ethics of Life Extension


Today, I wrote the abstract of my presentation, which will be presented at UNESCO Kumamoto conference to be held in December this year. (Perspectives on Self-determination, Kumamoto University, Japan, Dec.15-16, 2007). The conference is organized by Dr. Takao Takahashi, one of the leaders in Japan's medical ethics. Darryl Macer (UNESCO Bangkok) and other Japanese scholars are scheduled to participate.

The following is my abstract.

Self-determination and the Ethics of Life Extension

Masahiro Morioka, Osaka Prefecture University, Japan

The book, “Beyond Therapy,” written by Leon Kass and the President’s Council of Bioethics, was published in 2003. In Chapter 4 of their book, the authors discussed the ethics of life extension and age-retardation, and concluded that the technologies that accelerate them should not be encouraged because they might deprive us of the meaning of life and human dignity. From just after the publication, academic articles criticizing their argument started to appear in bioethics journals. Most of them strongly advocated freedom of research on life extension and age-retardation, and our right to choose (or buy) those future technologies in terms of the principle of self-determination. Some authors profess their desire to live as long as possible even if it be more than several hundred years.

Since last year, when I had an opportunity in Japan to give a public lecture on ethics of life and death, I talked about this topic every time and asked the audience how they thought about this issue. Surprisingly, the majority of people who replied to me said that they didn’t wish to live for such a long period of time even if they could buy those technologies. In the United States of America, people who object to the idea of life extension and are-retardation are those who are sympathetic with Christian values. Then, what about in Japan?

Concerning this topic, the philosopher Hans Jonas published a paper entitled, “The Burden and Blessing of Mortality,” in Hastings Center Report in 1992. In his paper he concludes that death is a burden to us, but at the same time, death is a blessing to humans. I would like to make clear what he really meant to say in his last philosophical paper, and finally, I would like to present my comments on this topic.

Kumamoto City is located at the west coast of Kyushu Island. To the south, there is the world famous city of Minamata. I have never been there. I want to visit this city someday.

Photo: Zushi Coast

  -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

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I read some texts (suppose not all of them) on life extension ethics on lifestudies.org, but haven't found any discussion on so obvious change of the game (life) playing rules as language and knowledge. Excuse me for not explaining far-reaching game metaphor. Yet I think if life contains any competition (e.g. youth vs. experience) element - life extension must have great impact on it. Do you think 300 years old would want to speak the same language as teenager? Why she should? If one would have the time to organize own deep knowledge (experience) and time to acquire same quality different knowledge from others (share), would the category of such knowledge be apprehensible for our time us? Dare you say to have any slight understanding of the pleasures of 500 years old healthy human? All of the same question - do you think human is too lazy to significantly develop in her lifetime? Is it a scientific fact or is it a statistics? Do you know any research or discussion on this (except fiction literature)?

Thank you for your comment, JJ. I have not read the articles that discuss the (im)possibility of communication between super-aged people and yongsters in terms of language. Scholars who support life extension technologies tend to think that such difficulties will be resolved by future technology. This might be a reason why they do not think about the language problem seriously.

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