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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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    Dec 18 2011: As a lawyer, I'm thoroughly disillusioned about the idea of "rights". A "right" is an elastic concept. It has at least seven different types of meaning. People will try to escape their evolutionary and biological limitations, whether they can or not, and they will invent all kinds of justifications, some of them will be called "rights" and some "wrongs", depending on perpspective. Wnen push comes to shove, and people starve, the rich will keep their elderly alive much longer than poor can do - and they will see it as their "inalienable right" to do so.
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      Dec 18 2011: I was very interested in hearing your point of view on this particular concept of "rights" so I'm glad you picked up on that. I hear you and I understand what you mean, but what still leaves me hanging here is so you think it's better to just say "it's neither good nor bad, it is what it is" and thereby let the world be divided and unequal and just accept it? I understand the semantics of the words are complex and I don't take them as something given and universal, but I am curious if you have any personal opinions on weather or not it's acceptable to try to significantly lengthen human lifespan? We can always say, that we can't be sure and that there are many ways to look at things, but we usually also have our own opinion about what is right and what is not, and now I'm asking your personal opinion if you wish to share it(: Just curious because you clearly understand the framework of these questions very well. Thank you!
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        Dec 18 2011: I think our Western Societies are spending too much on keeping old people alive. However, since our societies are built on a premise that people should have as much freedom as possible to allocate their resources wherever they want to, it's hard to do anything politically to scale back this effort. It may be "low utility" from the government's point of view, but it can have very high utility from the point of view of the individual elderly person or his/her family. That brings us straight back to the core of the matter: The way that private ownership of resources leads to outcomes that may be good for the individual, but less good for the group. How free should we be to spend our money on beef, which causes more grain to be fed to cows, which causes grain prices to go up, which causes people to starve to death?

        I'm all for political action, but see other problems as more pressing than to limit the number of octogenarians. Autism has increased by a factor of 20 over the last 25 years. Autism hits boys 4 times more often than girls, which means that whatever is causing autism to go up, is probably acting synergistically with testosterone. I'm afraid that it's not a coincidence that the ratio of boys to girls in our colleges has gone down to 40/60 over the same time span. The most likely cause is cumulative low-grade poisoning, with things like mercury, lead, copper and aluminium, that are relatively harmless in very small doses when acting alone, but which are dramatically more poisonous when allowed to act together. Testosterone is known to increase the toxicity. Estrogen protects. This ongoing problem is something we very definitely can't afford as a society, and yet NOBODY is doing a thing about it.
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          Dec 18 2011: I never knew those things about autism, thank you for filling me in with this very important information. It's a very disturbing thing to hear that it could be caused by a cumulative low-grade poisoning, I've never even thought this kind of a thing would be possible.

          As we see, increasing knowledge is crucial. This piece of information I just received, makes me want to look into it more.

          Also thank you for sharing your opinion!
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          Dec 18 2011: "The most likely cause is cumulative low-grade poisoning, with things like mercury, lead, copper and aluminium"

          according to who?
        • Dec 18 2011: Perhaps the issue is not that individuals spend their earned money to live longer but rather how expensive pills and medical services became, particularly in the US when compared to the rest of the world for no other reason than due to bureaucracy, pharma companies and profit of insurers.

          I think the real problem with the good use of resources are not necessarily individuals but rather governments that spend trillions of dollars on wars, false security measures and laws that aid big corporations rather than the public.

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