An Ethics of Increasing Human Lifespan
Center for Ethics of Science and Technology
In a recent book, Aging, Death and Human Longevity (U of Calif. Press, 2003) Christine Overall argues for a position called 'prolongevitism.' Basically this is the idea that, all things considered to be equal, it would be preferable to prolong human life than let it end out of natural course. The idea opposed to prolongevitism, apologism, argues on the contrary that death is a natural part of life and should be accepted as such. In this talk I shall comment on some of the arguments that have been put forward either defending or attacking prolongevitism. The whole issue underlining the debate between prolongevitism and apologismm concerns what should be considered as 'one' human life in such a way that a continuation of bodily and mental functions in some form count as one's own survival. Prolongevitists seem to assume that what is to be prolonged is one's own body and one's own mental continuum, but it is deeply questionable how such a continuum could be metaphysically justified. Without having to delve into deep metaphysical analyses like the Buddhists have done, common sense often has it that one's childhood, for example, is so different (in bodily dimensions, in mental capacities, and so forth) that sometimes it merits talking about beng a different person even though there is bodily and mental continuation in the commonly accepted sense. Moreover, one also often talks about 'becoming a different person' or 'becoming totally transformed'. The point is only that there seems to be a basis behind these kinds of talks. And it is also a scientific fact that no molecules in the human body remain the same after a period of time; in other words, after a period of time all molecules in the body change and are replaced. Hence it sometimes does make sense that in the commonly accepted sense (i.e., one goes from birth through childhood, adolescence, maturity, old age and ends with death) the idea of there being one self is rather untenable and is a metaphysical construction in any case. I shall argue that the sense of being one self here is a construction and has no basis in reality. This implies that Overall's recommendations for social policy that favors increasing human lifespan and quality of life does not necessarily hinge on the idea that prolonging one's self is a good thing.
This abstract is going to be presented at the upcoming 8th Asian Bioethics Conference.