Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States. Please give as you are able, and help support our work for a brighter future.

Search the IEET
Subscribe and Contribute to:

Technoprogressive? BioConservative? Huh?
Quick overview of biopolitical points of view

whats new at ieet

How much should we care for virtual mice?

Obfuscation: protect privacy by destroying the Web!

The Revenge of the Pagans: Ovid as prophet of the posthuman

Benefiting from Exponentials Globally

Theory and Application of the Extended Mind (Series Index)

Network Society Interview with David Orban

ieet books

The Brain: The Story of You
David Eagleman


Giulio Prisco on 'Viewpoints on Modern Cosmism' (Nov 28, 2015)

instamatic on 'Christians Should Support Scientists and Technologists' (Nov 27, 2015)

Rick Searle on 'Obfuscation: protect privacy by destroying the Web!' (Nov 27, 2015)

Mahee on 'Saudi Arabia implements electronic tracking system to monitor women’s movements' (Nov 27, 2015)

John139 on 'Tech Company Humai Wants to Resurrect the Dead Using A.I.' (Nov 26, 2015)

spud100 on 'Moral and Legal Imperatives for Sentient A.I. - Terasem Colloquium in Second Life Dec. 10th' (Nov 25, 2015)

spud100 on 'Christians Should Support Scientists and Technologists' (Nov 25, 2015)

Subscribe to IEET News Lists

Daily News Feed

Longevity Dividend List

Catastrophic Risks List

Biopolitics of Popular Culture List

Technoprogressive List

Trans-Spirit List


Enframing the Flesh: Heidegger, Transhumanism, and the Body as “Standing Reserve”

Moral Enhancement and Political Realism

Intelligent Technologies and Lost Life

Hottest Articles of the Last Month

Why it matters that you realize you’re in a computer simulation
Nov 14, 2015
(67411) Hits
(14) Comments

The Future Business of Body Shops
Nov 15, 2015
(7949) Hits
(0) Comments

Crypto Enlightenment: A Social Theory of Blockchains
Nov 1, 2015
(7055) Hits
(0) Comments

Is Anyone Competent to Regulate Artificial Intelligence?
Nov 21, 2015
(3950) Hits
(1) Comments

IEET > Rights > Life > Innovation > Health > Trustees > Arthur Caplan > Contributors > Maria Konovalenko

Print Email permalink (1) Comments (4001) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg

Why It Is Ethical to Cure the Disease of Aging

Maria Konovalenko
By Maria Konovalenko

Posted: Feb 27, 2013

Arthur Caplan, renowned bioethicist, presents simply brilliant argumentation that aging is an unnatural process in this paper. It’s a must-read. I’d love to highlight the main thoughts that I find are profoundly important for the whole fighting aging field.

Why do the doctors treat atherosclerosis and cancer, but not the physiological changes and deteriorations, associated with aging?

Progeria—rapid ageing in a child—is considered a horrible disease, whereas the same changes occurring 80 years later are considered normal and unworthy of medical interest.

The reason is because aging is not being thought of as a disease by doctors and the rest of the world. But it should be!

… in medical dictionaries, disease is almost always defined as any pathological change in the body. Pathological change is inevitably defined as constituting any morbid process in the body… ageing would there- fore seem to have a prima facie claim to being counted as a disease.

One thing that does differentiate ageing from other processes or states traditionally classified as disease is the fact that ageing is perceived as a natural or normal process.

So, the main thesis of the article is that aging is an unnatural process. Dr. Caplan says that if that were not true, then there must have been compelling evidence that aging is natural “and, as such, intrinsically good thing.” This brings us to figuring out what is believed to be natural in medicine. Well, it turns out, one view is that it’s common and normal process that affects 100% of the population.

Coronary atherosclerosis, neoplasms, high blood pressure, sore throats, colds, tooth decay and depression are all nearly universal in their distribution and seem to be inevitable phenomena, yet we would hardly call any of these things natural. The inevitability of infectious disease does not cause the physician to dismiss infections as natural occurrences of no particular medical interest.

The other point of view on what is natural and what’s not comes from considering purpose and function. In order to decide whether aging is natural or not, we should define its function. There are two explanations. The first one is religious, where the vindictive god wants the people to remember they are morally weak. As Dr. Caplan notes, this can’t be used as a scientific explanation, which leaves us with the second point of view “that the purpose or function of ageing is to clear away the old to make way for the new.” Evolutionary biologists tried to explain what aging is and why it is needed based on the concept of natural selection.

More surprisingly, the scientific explanation of ageing as serving an evolutionary role is also not true, because it rests on a faulty evolutionary analysis.

Given that selective forces act on individuals and their genotypes and not species, it makes no sense to speak of ageing as serving an evolutionary function or purpose to benefit the species.

I find this thought genius. It seems to me so obvious now when I’ve read it. Indeed, this has always been overlooked by aging biologists. Evolutionary theories have always seemed so dangerously appealing that it might have drawn aging biologists (like Tom Kirkwood, for example) away from fighting aging. A lot of scientists still think aging is natural and I believe the evolutionary theories have played a major role in forming this belief. This may be the underlying reason why researchers can’t accept the thought that aging can and should be cured. Dr. Caplan defines aging in the following way:

Ageing exists, then, as a consequence of a lack of evolutionary foresight; it is simply a by-product of selective forces that work to increase the chances of reproductive suc- cess. Senescence has no function; it is simply the inadvertent subversion of organic func- tion, later in life, in favour of maximizing reproductive advantage early in life.

The common belief that ageing serves a function or purpose, if this belief is based on a misapprehension of evolutionary theory, is mistaken. And, if this is so, it would seem that the common belief that ageing is a natural process is also mistaken. And if that is true, and if it is actually the case that what occurs during the ageing process parallels the changes that occur during paradigmatic examples of disease (Boorse, 1975), then it would be reasonable to consider ageing as a disease.

The explanation of why ageing occurs has many of the attributes of a stochastic or chance phenomenon. And this makes ageing unnatural and in no way an intrinsic part of human nature. As such, there is no reason why it is intrinsically wrong to try to reverse or cure ageing.

There is no reason why we can’t call aging a disease. There is no ethical reason why we shouldn’t try to slow down or reverse aging. There is no ethical reason why we shouldn’t fight aging – the worst disease of all times.

Maria Konovalenko is a molecular biophysicist and the program coordinator for the Science for Life Extension Foundation. She earned her M.Sc. degree in Molecular Biological Physics at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
Print Email permalink (1) Comments (4002) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg


I like his conclusion, but I’m sad to see he got there through bad reasoning.

“Dr. Caplan says that if that were not true, then there must have been compelling evidence that aging is natural ‘and, as such, intrinsically good thing.’”

Natural is not the same as good, much less intrinsically good. Many natural things are, indeed, bad (for humans, anyway). Whether or not aging is good or bad has little to do with whether it’s natural and so much more to do with whether it’s helpful, useful, or desirable. The answer to all three, I think, is no.

YOUR COMMENT (IEET's comment policy)

Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA)

Previous entry: The Problem with Highlighting Beauty Along with Brains


RSSIEET Blog | email list | newsletter |
The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States.

East Coast Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
56 Daleville School Rd., Willington CT 06279 USA 
Email: director @     phone: 860-428-1837

West Coast Contact: Managing Director, Hank Pellissier
425 Moraga Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611
Email: hank @