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Emma Heikkinen

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Is is ethical to try to lengthen the human lifespan?

My concerns about the ethics of trying to lengthen the human lifespan are partly related to overpopulation, poverty and famine and also the demographic changes it would cause. We've just hit 7 billion people on this planet and continue to reproduce.

My other aspect on the ethical side of this is that isn't is a bit selfish to try to live longer and longer? Are the medical and genetic engineering projects to lengthen the human lifespan the modern search for Philosopher's stone and the ultimate sign of our fear of death?

Please share your thoughts and knowledge and ask more questions!


Closing Statement from Emma Heikkinen

Thanks for everyone for contributing to this conversation! I could not be happier that my first TED conversation got replies and actually gave me some very fruitful thoughts also. Happy holidays everyone!

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  • Dylan F

    • +2
    Dec 17 2011: I do not think it's unethical and I also believe that it does not matter whether or not it is ethical. Without life, ethical conduct does not exist. It's quite inevitable for us to strive towards living longer given how influential death avoidance has evolved to be.

    So I believe we should ask different questions in regards to aging and a growing world population. Do we have the resources and technology to sustain a healthy standard of living (however defined) for the world population as a whole? If so, what are the required steps to reach this? If not, why not? What technologies may need to be further developed to ensure this? And what can we do to minimize suffering in the mean time (i.e. contraceptives, dampening the desire for wanting many children through creating more opportunities and enhancing the standard of living in areas of poverty as much as possible, etc.)?

    Our planet is huge, our technology is advanced (and exponentially increasing) but our willingness to strive towards global equality is lacking.
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      Dec 18 2011: Hey Dylan,

      Thanks for your comment! I agree that without life (human life) ethics don't exist, because "ethics" is a man-made concept and a socio-historically and culturally constructed complex set of believes of how we should behave and what we should base our decisions on. Nevertheless, human life exists at least for now, so ethics in my opinion is a relevant issue to bring on the table. I wanted to ask, why is it that you think it's inevitable we strive towards living longer? Couldn't it be also inevitable for us to except the fact that we're mortal and will die at one point, and instead of trying to live longer just try to pursue a better standard and quality of living (hence death avoidance in a form of modern medicine for example)?

      What do you think are the biggest factors that are stopping us from increasing global equality and wellbeing? How could we make the new technologies and information available for everyone and not just for a small group of people on this planet?

      Thanks again(:
      • Dec 18 2011: Hey,
        Thanks for the response. I read your other post you've made clarifying your stance. I really do think it's a very interesting and relevant question. If living a longer life directly contributed to a shorter life of someone else, I could foresee a strong moral argument for such a balancing act. However, such limitations do not exist.

        From my understanding, a long, healthy life requires only a reasonable amount of resources. Unless you're genetically predisposed to diseases or have unhealthy habitual tendencies, you'll be quite fine statistically if you have access to general healthcare, healthy food and water and find yourself in a social community. These basic necessities could easily be brought to everyone, right now.

        The root issues to why these basic necessities are not universal lay in policies and economics: Policies because the world is not quite yet globalized and thus we have societies with totalitarian rule and very misguided social beliefs as a consequence; Economics because many nations have been unable to compete internationally for reasons in and outside of their control.
      • Dec 18 2011: But I believe in the next decade or two, the lifespan gap you mention will narrow greatly. Impact investing will become an increasing popular method for conducting business. There are enormous economic incentives to provide basic necessities (food/water, energy, healthcare, education, etc.) to all peoples because these communities will then be able to contribute back to the global network, just as any community does today. Solar power continues to increase in efficiency and decrease in cost at an increasing rate. This means that it will eventually intersect with fossil fuels in terms of cost and efficiency. Once this trend continues from there, it is hard to imagine not having limitless, virtually free energy throughout the globe. This will greatly enhance the standard of living in remote and poor communities. The medical industry is seeing the rise of a computer science revolution that has enormous promise. In addition to these (and many, many other emerging technologies), the falling cost of technologies will allow poor nations to actually compete in the global market, which would lead eventually to an 'age of abundance'.
        It has been happening already. Although the gap is large now, the global life expectancy in the 1800s was 37. So even those at the low end of the spectrum are enjoying lives much better than the average person 200 years ago! But it gets better because in this information age we find ourselves in, there is exponential change. We think in linear terms so it’s very hard to imagine what the next few decades will look like. With biotechnology, robotics and (eventually) nanotechnology, some believe we could even be immortal by ~2050. By then we will be much more intelligent than we are now that all ethical dilemmas we predict now will be obsolete. I suppose all we can do is continue to develop technologies, value well-being as the most important thing in life and structure our communities promoting that fact.

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