Printed: 2020-05-29

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Surprising new Pew Research Center Study indicates most Americans dont want radical life extension

Kevin LaGrandeur

Ethical Technology

November 04, 2013

A Pew Research Center survey of 2,012 American adults done between March and April, 2013 shows, somewhat surprisingly, that a majority of those surveyed (58%) would not like to live radically extended lives—although they think that other people besides themselves would.

When asked their idea of what constituted an ideal length for their own lives (in good and full health), most named 90 as the desired length.  They thought 120—a benchmark for radical life extension—was too long.  The top reasons given against radical life extension had to do with social beliefs: most (over two-thirds) thought that only the wealthy would have access; that scientists would offer treatments before they were completely understood; and that longer life would strain natural resources. 

Additionally, more than half (58%) thought that treatments would be “fundamentally unnatural.”  Most were skeptical that techno-medical  advances would lead to radically extended life by 2050, anyhow, with just 25% believing it would happen. 


Here are some key statistics, in graphical form, from the study:

This is really food for thought for those who are enthusiastic about life extension and the transhuman: how would they address the public's skepticism about these issues?  Especially since they don’t fall into the three major categories of objections to longevity that one is used to seeing. That is, in this survey, the issues of “sour grapes” (if I can’t have it, it’s not good anyhow), and the so-called “thithonus fallacy” (extended mortality equals extended morbidity and living longer with debilities) were not presented as issues.

In fact, the premise given to respondents was that if radically extended life (i.e.—to 120 years), lived in good health were widely available, would you want it for yourself? And the second question was “do you think others would want it”? The third most common objection to longevity—population and resource problems—was, however, a big source of objections to deferred mortality.

I am curious how the IEET community would respond to this survey. Do you find it shocking? Do any of these misgivings hold water?  Why or  why not?  If the public is not only skeptical, but hostile to radical life extension, then what does that imply for future efforts to move that agenda forward?  There are probably more questions raised here, but I, for one, was pretty surprised by this public reaction.  

Perhaps, like many, I tend to assume people will act in their own interests and so most would be enthusiastic about attaining longer, healthier lives. I am going to hold off on giving my own views at the moment, because then they would become the focus of response, and I would like to see how others respond to this survey.

The complete article reporting the results of this study can be found at the Pew Research Center website:

IEET Fellow Kevin LaGrandeur is a Faculty Member at the New York Institute of Technology. He specializes in the areas of technology and culture, digital culture, philosophy and literature.


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