More Decline In The “Giggle Factor”

Not about space tourism. About anti-aging therapies. From Reuters:

Olshansky and his colleagues have called on the U.S. government to inject $3 billion a year into the field, arguing the benefits of achieving an average seven-year delay in the process of biological aging would far exceed the gains from eliminating cancer.

Ethically, the extension of life is controversial, with some philosophers arguing it goes against fundamental human nature.

But John Harris, Professor of Bioethics at the University of Manchester, said any society that applauded the saving of life had a duty to embrace regenerative medicine.

“Life saving is just death postponing with a positive spin,” he said. “If it is right and good to postpone death for a short time, it is hard to see now it would be less right and less good to postpone it for a long while.”

Yes, this is the logical dilemma that the Kassians and other deathists find themselves in. Who are they to decide how long other people should live?

I was talking about this with someone last summer in DC, and he asked an interesting question. There’s a respectable argument to be made that, while not every individual requires religion to be good, society itself does, because not everyone will be moral without a belief in a divine lawgiver and retribution in the afterlife. Similarly, he asked me, though no one wants to die, isn’t it good for society that we do?

My trite response, a la Groucho, is “what has posterity ever done for me?”

Unquestionably, death has some beneficial consequences for society. For one thing, it’s currently the most effective means of defeating dictators and tenure (which are often the same thing). I think the answer to that, though, is to come up with more effective means of dealing with dictators than the UN, and once it’s recognized that people are effectively living forever, or at least as long as they want to, tenure will have to face reform as well (in addition to an end to life-long appointments in general). Death also promotes innovation (as the old saying goes, science progresses, funeral by funeral).

But I’m not aware of any benefits that are worth sacrificing my life for. Risking, yes, but not sacrificing it. If death taking a holiday causes problems, I’d rather spend my life coming up with better solutions to those problems, rather than arbitrarily deciding that three-score and ten, or any other number, is the right one. After all, if one is going to argue that we should only live for a finite period of time, how would one come up with the right length? And how does this differ from mass executions, for the mere crime of living too long? It seems to me that the slope on which folks like Leon Kass and Eric Cohen tread is very slippery, with extremely ugly terrain at the bottom.