Live Long Enough To Live For­ever

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

By Ozzy King

Notwith­stand­ing claims to the con­trary, there is at present no proven strat­egy for aug­ment­ing the max­i­mum hu­man life­span. How­ever, the present ab­sence of life-ex­tend­ing tech­nol­ogy is not a cause for lamen­ta­tion for we are al­ready in pos­ses­sion of a tech­nol­ogy, in the form of cry­on­ics, which safe­guards against death prior to the ad­vent of or ac­cess to the stated tech­nol­ogy. Cry­on­ics refers to the low tem­per­a­ture preser­va­tion of per­sons pro­nounced dead by medi­cole­gal stan­dards with the hope that they may be re­sus­ci­tated and re­ju­ve­nated by fu­ture tech­nol­ogy. The pri­mary ra­tio­nale for cry­on­ics is that a per­son con­sid­ered dead by the stan­dards of present tech­nol­ogy is not nec­es­sar­ily dead by the stan­dards of fu­ture tech­nol­ogy. Cur­rently, an es­ti­mated 300 per­sons are cry­op­re­served world­wide, with thou­sands more signed up for the pro­ce­dure which is in­creas­ingly prov­ing an eco­nom­i­cally vi­able al­ter­na­tive to tra­di­tional forms of post-mor­tu­ary dis­posal.

The specter of an old, de­crepit, ema­ci­ated man or woman who craves death but is un­able to die is bound to be sum­moned in the mind of some at the men­tion of life ex­ten­sion. This view­point, termed the Tithonus fal­lacy (af­ter a char­ac­ter in Greek mythol­ogy who was granted im­mor­tal­ity by Zeus at the be­hest of his lover – the god­dess Eos – who un­for­tu­nately for­got to ask for eter­nal youth as well) is an ob­sti­nate er­ror in the public mind. Life ex­ten­sion is, cat­e­gor­i­cally, not an ex­ten­sion of the pe­riod of de­cline but rather an ex­ten­sion of the pe­riod dur­ing which one is healthy and vi­brant. Fur­ther­more, the ef­fects of life-ex­tend­ing tech­nol­ogy will in­evitably be im­per­ma­nent and most likely take the form of pe­ri­odic re­ju­ve­na­tion. As such, per­sons dis­sat­is­fied with an in­def­i­nite life­span (for what­ever rea­sons) may opt out of the life ex­ten­sion pro­gram if they have started or should never par­take of it. It is there­fore a ques­tion of choice for the mis­sion of life ex­ten­sion is to ren­der the healthspan (and by ex­ten­sion life­span) of a per­son a mat­ter of choice in so far as this is pos­si­ble. Life ex­ten­sion is there­fore not the sign­ing of a con­tract of im­mor­tal­ity – a con­di­tion which, even if at­tain­able, elim­i­nates the el­e­ment of choice and acts against the man­date of life ex­ten­sion.

The de­sir­abil­ity of life ex­ten­sion has of­ten been chal­lenged in the form of a small set of re­cur­ring ar­gu­ments, namely that re­lated to over­pop­u­la­tion, bore­dom, at­ten­u­a­tion of sci­en­tific progress by means of the per­pe­tu­ity of old sci­en­tists, and the ex­ac­er­ba­tion of an al­ready dis­mal wealth dis­par­ity. An at­tempt at brevity pre­cludes a thor­ough anal­y­sis of the value of the above and other eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions. Nev­er­the­less, it may be ad­vanced that the fun­da­men­tal moral prin­ci­ple un­der­ly­ing life ex­ten­sion is the right to life – which is ac­com­pa­nied by no clause on the du­ra­tion of that life. A corol­lary of the right to life is the right to the high­est qual­ity of life one can af­ford. A nec­es­sary re­quire­ment of a qual­ity life is health. As afore­men­tioned, life ex­ten­sion rep­re­sents the at­tempt at ren­der­ing a per­son’s healthspan a mat­ter of choice. That said, it is in­con­ceiv­able that a per­son’s de­sire for an in­def­i­nite healthspan chal­lenges any moral pro­scrip­tion. Fur­ther­more, it would be the trade­mark of sophistry to put for­ward that life ex­ten­sion will in­tro­duce no prob­lems. If such was the case, it would be an un­prece­dented tech­nol­ogy and a mir­a­cle, for any great tech­nol­ogy – on ac­count of its nov­elty – al­ways in­tro­duces a tem­po­rary dis­e­qui­lib­rium in so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tion and tends to breed its own is­sues. What­ever the prob­lems is­su­ing from life ex­ten­sion, they are in­com­pa­ra­ble to life ex­ten­sion as a moral im­per­a­tive and not be­yond ame­lio­ra­tion.

A much an­tic­i­pated mile­stone in life-ex­tend­ing tech­nol­ogy is what Aubrey de Grey terms the Methuse­lar­ity. He de­fines it as “the point in our progress against ag­ing at which our ra­tio­nal ex­pec­ta­tion of the age to which we can ex­pect to live with­out agere­lated phys­i­o­log­i­cal and cog­ni­tive de­cline goes from the low three dig­its to in­fi­nite”. A re­lated con­cept termed the Longevity Es­cape Ve­loc­ity (also chris­tened by de Grey) refers to the rate of im­prove­ment of the com­pre­hen­sive­ness of life­ex­tend­ing tech­nol­ogy that will per­mit the re­ver­sal of the ef­fects of ag­ing faster than they are ac­cu­mu­lat­ing. Cry­oni­cist and life ex­ten­sion­ist Ben Best es­ti­mates that un­der the con­di­tions of the Methuse­lar­ity (ab­sence of death by ag­ing), the av­er­age hu­man life­span is about 1,200 years, with a one in a bil­lion chance of a max­i­mum life­span of ap­prox­i­mately 23,000 years!

“The Earth is the cra­dle of hu­man­ity but mankind can­not stay in the cra­dle for­ever.” These words, spo­ken by vi­sion­ary sci­en­tist Kon­stantin Tsi­olkovsky in the con­text of space col­o­niza­tion, are nev­er­the­less per­ti­nent to the gen­eral fu­ture of mankind. We can no longer ap­proach the fu­ture with the timid­ity of the cra­dled mind. We must con­front it with courage and tenac­ity. We are des­tined to evolve in unimag­in­able ways. Life ex­ten­sion is only the be­gin­ning!

Is there re­ally a se­cret to liv­ing longer?

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