Is the quest to defeat aging ethical?

In: Ethical Futures (S. Wint, ed.), 2008, in press.

Is the quest to defeat aging ethical?

de Grey ADNJ.



Ethics and psychology are more closely intertwined than might be apparent without detailed scrutiny. I feel that this is particularly so in the case of humanity’s attitude to the combating, and especially the outright defeat, of the process that biogerontologists tend to term “senescence” but most people, despite the attendant ambiguity, term “aging.” Specifically, doubts about the feasibility of defeating aging and about its desirability become seductively linked in a classic case of circular logic: when challenged (as they often are by me!), people tend to use their negativity about each as a basis for refusing to examine the legitimacy of their negativity about the other. It is not unreasonable to say that it doesn’t matter whether aging is a good thing because we can’t do anything about it anyway, and it is equally fair to say that it doesn’t matter whether we can defeat aging because doing so would be a bad idea anyway – but it is very unreasonable indeed to take both these positions at the same time. In this essay I offer some ways out of this trap.