“I wish I could live 10 to 20 years less,” said no one ever. In fact, I have never met anyone who didn’t want to live at least a few more years of a healthy, active life. Yet, incredibly, there appears to be some controversy about the topic of life extension. Specifically, there seems to be some pushback from critics, who have attacked life extension as “irresponsible” and “harmful,” cite overpopulation and resource constraints, and in turn paint doomsday scenarios that would occur if human beings were to live longer lives.
With this article, I hope to begin a discussion to eventually lay this controversy to rest, as well as assuage any concerns the general public may have about the growing life-extension movement. For the desire to live longer and healthier is not only natural to the human condition, but I believe it is one of the noblest goals for human beings to strive for.
There are many good reasons to support life extension, but here I shall provide a few reasons why, just to get the conversation started. Firstly, many people already support life extension. Anti-aging products as well as hormone replacement products and therapy generated about $50 billion of revenue in 2009 in the United States alone, according to the American Medical Association. If this isn’t an indication that people are very interested in life extension, I don’t know what is. While the efficacy of some such products and therapies has come into question, that in itself would be a good reason to develop this field so that more efficacious and better products could be developed. This would ensure that we adequately address the enormous demand for life-extension products and therapies.
Not only are many people already interested in life extension, but extending the human lifespan is something we have been working on for quite a while. In fact, the global average life expectancy has more than doubled since the year 1900. This necessarily raises the question,”Why should we stop now?” It seems illogical, unreasonable, and, in fact, inhumane to me to stop working on something so crucial – increasing life expectancy so that more people can have more of what is the most beautiful experience on Earth, the human experience. Therefore, why not dedicate more resources and funding to something that most people are already interested in, consider to be a huge priority in their lives, and which we have already been working on for a very long time?
Also, as I pointed out in a previous article on aging, there are practical reasons why we would want to support life extension. Making progress in life extension means each of us will have additional time with which to do things that are important to us. Imagine if you had an additional 10 to 20 young years of life. Think about all that could be accomplished during this time. The additional time you have in your life might help you come up with a cure for cancer, help eliminate poverty, or fulfill some other important accomplishment that humanity would benefit greatly from. As I mentioned in my article on aging, extending the human lifespan would result in us being able to work on other things that are important to the human race, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of improvement and progress. Imagine the number of world-changing ideas and products that never came to fruition because someone passed away. Let’s make sure that humanity is never robbed again of something it needs, just because of the untimely end of people who could have made a positive contribution.
In addition to logical and practical reasons why we should support life extension, it turns out that concerns about overpopulation and resource scarcity have been overblown. According to biologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey, life-extension therapy could postpone or eliminate menopause, thereby allowing women to space out their pregnancies over more years. What this would do is decrease the yearly population growth rate.
Further, according to Dr. Max More, CEO of Alcor, not to mention numerous other reputable sources, including The World Bank and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the worldwide population growth rate is slowing down and is projected to eventually stabilize and begin falling. Nowhere is this more apparent than in countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, China, Russia, and even the United States, where birth rates are below the 2.1 live births per woman required to just maintain population equilibrium. Additionally, even countries such as India, which used to have a very high birth rate, have seen huge declines in birth rates in recent years.
In terms of resource scarcity, according to the World Food Programme, while it is true that an estimated 124 million people in 51 countries are facing food insecurity, this is due to reasons such as conflict and political instability, rather than food shortages. In fact, according to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology, the problem of malnourishment is a distribution problem, rather than a production one. Indeed, India actually has a food surplus, but wastes an extraordinary amount of food, leading to a large number of undernourished people. Therefore, the problem is a supply-chain and political problem, rather than a resource problem, and we are not running out of food, as some people have claimed.
Finally, according to the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. No matter where you might live, taking a quick glance around you will likely reveal that this is indeed the case. While there are a litany of causes of obesity, lack of food is not one of them. Thus, we actually have too much food around the world, rather than not enough. Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations demonstrated, in a landmark study, that per capita food availability for the world as a whole has risen in recent decades, and the number of chronically undernourished people has been cut by more than 50 percent in just a few decades. Therefore, we have more than enough food to feed everyone.
The same exaggerated fears have been stoked about other resources, such as energy, water, and land, and all have been overcome or handled over the course of human history. It turns out that human beings have been remarkably successful at coming up with solutions to these challenges over the years, and I do not think that we will, all of a sudden, lose this resourcefulness, dedication, and ability to master our environment.
Naturally, over the last few decades, not to mention centuries, doomsday prognostications by people such as cleric and scholar Thomas Malthus, biologist Paul Ehrlich, and economist Stephen Leeb, have not come true, and in fact, in many cases, have been utterly debunked.
Finally, on a moral, ethical, and indeed, human level, it seems cruel to inhibit human beings to living a certain amount of time, and no more. To this end, I have a simple question for those who are opposed to life extension based on the idea that there is a predetermined amount of time that all humans are supposed to live.
Would you tell a parent being ravaged by stage 4 cancer or a sibling suffering from cystic fibrosis that they do not deserve to live any longer because their time is up and that this is the “natural order of things”? Everyone deserves to live a dignified, healthy, and fulfilling life, and it is cruel for us to appoint ourselves judge, jury, and executioner.
So I ask people who are vehemently against life extension, “Do you believe that we are qualified to decide how long others should live?” Further, if you support cancer treatment that would prolong the life of a loved one by a few months or few years, why would you not support treatment that would prolong their healthy life for a few more years?
Since the beginning of time, humans have always strived to improve their lot in life, to seek growth in many aspects of the human experience, and to overcome challenges and hardships. Just as it would be absurd for someone to say that they want to regress, devolve, and live a shorter life, it would be equally absurd for us to say we would not want to live longer, healthier lives. Thus, it is natural for humans to support life extension, if not for themselves, then at least for others who desire it, because to reject it would be equivalent to rejecting life, and rejecting the experience of being human.
Anyone who truly cherishes life and how valuable it is, should at least consider the vast number of possibilities that life extension would bring. Of course, it is up to each person to decide for themselves whether they would want to live healthier and longer lives, and we are not the decision-makers for everyone else. This is a personal decision that must be explored by each individual. I am confident that the more we communicate our message that life extension is natural as well as desirable for the development of human beings and the planet, the more people will be on board with something that is frankly very obvious: life extension is a noble cause, and one that is very much worth exploring.
Arin Vahanian is Director of Marketing for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.