From Basic Bioethics

New Methuselahs

The Ethics of Life Extension

By John K. Davis

An examination of the ethical issues raised by the possibility of human life extension, including its desirability, unequal access, and the threat of overpopulation.





An examination of the ethical issues raised by the possibility of human life extension, including its desirability, unequal access, and the threat of overpopulation.

Life extension—slowing or halting human aging—is now being taken seriously by many scientists. Although no techniques to slow human aging yet exist, researchers have successfully slowed aging in yeast, mice, and fruit flies, and have determined that humans share aging-related genes with these species. In New Methuselahs, John Davis offers a philosophical discussion of the ethical issues raised by the possibility of human life extension. Why consider these issues now, before human life extension is a reality? Davis points out that, even today, we are making policy and funding decisions about human life extension research that have ethical implications. With New Methuselahs, he provides a comprehensive guide to these issues, offering policy recommendations and a qualified defense of life extension.

After an overview of the ethics and science of life extension, Davis considers such issues as the desirability of extended life; whether refusing extended life is a form of suicide; the Malthusian threat of overpopulation; equal access to life extension; and life extension and the right against harm. In the end, Davis sides neither with those who argue that there are no moral objections to life enhancement nor with those who argue that the moral objections are so strong that we should never develop it. Davis argues that life extension is, on balance, a good thing and that we should fund life extension research aggressively, and he proposes a feasible and just policy for preventing an overpopulation crisis.

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  • Davis provides an innovative ethical analysis of life extenstion that is a must-read for bioethicists interested in the ethics of an aging intervention. Deploying a strategy that considers the impact radical life extension would have on three distinct groups--what he calls the Haves, the Have-nots, and the Will-nots--Davis addresses important considerations like boredom, justice, population growth, and welfare. His conclusions and policy recommendations deserve serious consideration and will help spur more debate on these timely and important issues.

    Colin Farrelly, Professor and Queen's National Scholar

    Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

  • Some bioconservatives oppose efforts to extend the human life span. They predict that much-longer lives will stoke uncontrollable population growth, aggravate social inequality, and maybe even crush us under the weight of unfillable time. John K. Davis takes on these challenges and more in New Methuselahs. He makes the case that extended lives will enrich the welfare of human descendants. Longer lives will trigger the need for new social arrangements--especially in regard to controllling population--but those changes will be easy to accept in the face of more interesting and maybe more peaceable lives. Davis offers an original and thoughtful analysis of a desirable future for human descendants.

    Timothy F. Murphy, Professor of Philosophy in the Biomedical Sciences

    University of Illinois College of Medicine, Chicago

  • Although life-extension technology is often taken to be the stuff of science fiction, John Davis makes not only a sober and compelling case for its scientific practicality but also an equally compelling case for its adoption once it has been developed. Davis does not, however, merely address the ethical concerns that are raised by the prospect of life extension technology. He also outlines the policies that should be put in place to address some of the legitimate concerns (such as overpopulation) that would be raised by this technology's widespread use. Davis's book is thus a true rarity--a groundbreaking philosophical work that is ahead of the scientific advances that will give rise to the social and ethical questions that it addresses.

    James Stacey Taylor, Philosophy, Religion, and Classical Studies Department

    The College of New Jersey

  • Davis charts a couse between the naive optimism of overzealous life extension enthusiasts and the pessimism of bio-conservatives. New Methuselahs is replete with innovative and controversial proposals, including reproductive lotteries and additional taxes for those who opt to extend lifespan. This book should be read by anyone interested in or concerned about the individual and social impact of significantly longer lives.

    Christopher S. Wareham

    Steve Biko Center for Bioethics, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa