SAGE KE Bulletin Board

RE: Ethics of and motivation for aging cure

3 October 2001

Nuno Arantes-Oliveira

When the crossbow was invented in the Middle Ages, the Pope declared that such a magnificent weapon would surely bring an end to all wars. Lack of perspective can mislead us into overestimating -- as well as underestimating -- the beneficial effect of a novelty.

But the point I would really like to argue is that of "economic expansion" as a consequence of a cure for aging. First, we would have to assume that we would eliminate, rather that postpone, physical and mental decay, in order for the proportion of life spent in a dependent condition to be significantly reduced. Most -- if not all -- present research on the subject points towards ways of delaying or slowing down the aging process; not eliminating it.

Second, if aging were indeed eliminated, one could predict that a larger proportion of the population would end up dying of diseases or accidents not related to aging. Many of these diseases and accidents would still put patients in a state of dependence before they died. After an initial period of lifespan extension of the population, the death rate would stabilize again and so would the "dependence" rate, although perhaps at levels lower that what we presently see. But many unfortunate people would then stay dependent for much longer periods of time, because they would not age and die "normally". Moreover, during that same initial period the population would grow to levels that in many regions of the globe would seriously endanger the economy.

(naturally I'm ignoring many variables, but the point is I'm not convinced that simply living a lot longer would bring any aconomic benefit)

Third, what exactly do we mean by economic expansion? (and what scientific criteria does the American Aging Association use for their trillions of dollars?) Thinking about the possible social consequences of there being more people fit to work, one of the first that comes to my mind is an increase in unemployment, which is one major problem in most modern societies. Furthermore, if people have to face the perspective of having to work, say, 150 years before they can retire, how would they react?


Science of Aging Knowledge Environment. ISSN 1539-6150