TED Conversations

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 19 2011: Kristian and Emma,

    Thank you for responding to my outburst about autism prevention, as an alternative way to keep health care costs down. I'm sorry to sidetrack the main conversastion, so I'll try to be very brief when I answer Kristian's question:

    >> "The most likely cause is cumulative low-grade poisoning, with things like mercury, lead, copper and aluminium"
    according to who?
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      Dec 19 2011: indeed, it was brief :)
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        Dec 19 2011: That was strange. I guess the system clipped my message at the point where I put in the END-QUOTE.

        The poisoning theory is more a concern than a full-blown belief, i.e. a question about what risks we can allow ourselves to take while we develop our understanding of the problem. I've lived with this problem in my family for 25 years, have read everything I've come across about the causes and gone to countless conferences, and believe we hae ample reason for concern. Very simply put, lead is over 50 times more poisonous in the presence of mercury and vice versa, and the toxicity of both increases in the presence of testosterone. If you want to read more, start with the work done by professor Boyd Haley.

        There's already some evidence. The lab results are clear, but we don't have enough of them yet. Amalgam fillings, for example, don't seem to give off enough mercury to harm most people, but we know that it's concentrated across the placenta, and the rise in autism happened to the first generation to be born after such fillings became widespread. The epidemiological evidence is ambiguous. The rise in violent crime, for example, mirrors our exposure to tetraethyllead with a 22-year time lag, but both of them also mirror other factors as well. It's a mess - but one we I think we can't afford to ignore.

        In haste,
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          Dec 19 2011: in some way, this falls very much into the topic of this discussion. we don't want to treat people in a way they don't want. offer a vaccine with mercury for one dollar, and without mercury for 15 dollars if this is the extra production cost. let people decide. those who don't believe in the adverse effects of small amount of mercury, can chose that. those who want to be cautious (and who would not be?), give the mercury free version, and charge some more money.

          giving mercury to someone has no ethical aspects, as long as everything is voluntary and honest.

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