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Don’t Drag Me Along into Your Grave, Daniel Callahan
Maria Konovalenko   Dec 4, 2013   Maria Konovalenko  

I don’t want to die, but apparently Daniel Callahan wants me to.  He wants me to say nothing, do nothing about aging and just wait until I am 75 and die quietly. Well, that’s not going to happen, mister. Bioethicisits like Callahan are the ones responsible for our suffering from the horrors of aging-related diseases and death. And here’s why. The opinion of bioethicists prevents the progress from being fast enough to cure aging. The decision-makers rely upon what senior “thinkers” like Callahan have in mind on the problem of life extension.

Unfortunately, in the case of aging, this opinion is merely a handling of the topic by people, who  are not competent enough and don’t take all the society in consideration. They claim they do, but they don’t really. As a matter of fact, the ethical position is on the transhumanist side. We believe the life of a person is the most important thing, and it is worth fighting for regardless of the situation.

A person’s life is the ultimate value. Callahan, on the contrary, states that, basically, people shouldn’t be alive if they are over 75 years of age, because they are too expensive to be alive for the country. Well, apparently, this doesn’t concern Mr. Callahan’s life, which is too precious for the country that his ethical position makes an exception and lets him perform a heart surgery at 80 and be perfectly fine with it.

What is obscure for Daniel Callahan is the fact that even if the current biomedical advances are not yet powerful enough to cure aging and prolong the youthful state of the body, they definitely will be in the future. There’s a good chance researchers will come up with ways to cure emthysema and heart failure, meaning not only alleviate the ill health, but get rid of the causes of those nasty diseases.

I believe it will be possible to return people to their youthful state by applying gene therapy, various drugs, maybe stem cell therapies and other things that scientific progress will come up with. But in order for the science to move along and give us the gifts of not getting old and maybe even reversing old age and bad health, biothicists like Daniel Callahan should stop thinking about themselves and start thinking about the society.

I’m pretty sure Callahan doesn’t think he’s going to live much longer, and he is trying to make longevity seem like an undesirable thing – a world populated with oblivious elderly like in Swift’s Gulliver’s travels, so that he doesn’t feel bad for himself. But by doing so, he is making this sick dream of a 18th century schizophrenic writer a reality. He is slowing down the progress by making other believe that life shouldn’t be extended.

Life should be extended. It’s the most ethical thing to do. There is always hope that science will come up with the solution to your particular situation and your health problems will be gone. The future is worth fighting for, so don’t give in to the “oh, there’s nothing we can do about aging” mood and start learning about all the exciting research news on longevity, post about the importance of aging research in social media and meet with like-minded people online and in real life. These simple steps can be a great counterbalance to all the Callahans in the world.

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.



COMMENTS

I don’t agree that a person’s life is the ultimate value. For one thing, “a person’s life”, while packing a good rhetorical punch, doesn’t actually mean anything. Who’s life is Maria talking about?

Let us start from the following sentence, which I basically agree with: “I believe it will be possible to return people to their youthful state by applying gene therapy, various drugs, maybe stem cell therapies and other things that scientific progress will come up with.” I would just add the caveat, “unless civilisation collapses first”, a scenario that certainly seems to have a non-zero chance of occurring. This raises two fairly obvious questions: how can we best avoid the prospect of civilisation collapsing first, and what might that mean for our attitude towards the fight against aging?

Both of these questions can be answered in many ways, of course, and the answers we come up with (and indeed the extent to which we are willing to reflect on them at all) will depend on our individual values and circumstances. In my case, my motivation is a mixture of altruistic-utilitarian values and more selfish concerns, and on balance these make me want to support the fight against aging.

I haven’t read what Daniel Callaghan wrote, but from what Maria writes he certainly seems to be mired in drearily conventional thinking, and I suspect she is at least partly right to attribute his comments to a wish to feel better about the prospect of dying. At the same time, whatever might be motivating some of us to want to “move the science along”, we also need to empathise to some extent with those who for one reason or another are appalled by the idea.

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