The Ethics of Longevity
I’m a human longevity nerd. I’ve read dozens of papers on the topic, written multiple articles, and built projects. But, something that I’ve always struggled with is the question: is living longer ethical?
DISCLAIMER: I’d like to start this article off by saying, this piece comes from the heart, and therefore it’s riddled with bias and is my opinion.
Death is something that most people fear. It’s something that we look at, and we’re just like ‘yup…that’s definitely something I don’t want’. But, even if we are individually scared of death, does preventing that negatively affect the total human race?
Balance is important. I’m not trying to sound like Thanos, but without balance our universe couldn’t exist. If the earth wasn’t in the goldilocks zone, or the earth’s atmosphere had a percent more hydrogen, or the Universe’s initial expansion rate and the sum total of all the different forms of matter and energy in the Universe weren't the exact same, we wouldn’t be here. The fact that we exist at all is the byproduct of an extremely lucky instance of balance. In fact, the reason we’re dying at all, is just because molecules become unbalanced at a cellular level.
In fact, before humans the earth was relatively sustainable. There was balance. But, as we began to shift that, we saw things like species extinction, mass pollution, harvest infestation, disease, invasive species, climate change, and plastics. We created fast travel. The fastest out of all animals. But that led to the melting of our ice caps. We created cheap and useful materials, those same materials ended up in our ocean. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to see a pattern.
So are we disrupting the natural balance if we are living longer?
In my opinion, yes. I think we’ve already passed the point of ‘natural’ age. In the last 200, we’ve increased the average lifespan from 41 to in Canada, 82. In literally 0.1% of the time we’ve existed we doubled our lifespan. Want to know when the Anthropocene (the time during which human activities have impacted the environment enough to cause geological change) started? 200 years ago.
So, do I think longevity is ethical?
Honestly, no. I think that human longevity is an industry and science that is incredibly interesting, and may change all our lives. But in truth, I don’t believe in making the average life span 120 or 160 or 200. I feel like right now, with our average lifespan of 78, we’re already on an unsustainable path of reproduction and human life. The longer we live, the more of us are on our planet. And it’s not like earth’s getting any bigger, the air’s getting cleaner or the amount of fresh water we have is increasing. Yes, it’s amazing to think that maybe we don’t have to die, but in that same train of that thought, is living longer taking away from the next generation?
If there are more of us when the next generation is born, there will be more of them born, and if there is more of them, the next generation will be larger. Right now, we’re struggling with overpopulation. What do you think overpopulation will become if live double the time?
What’s more, if there is a huge push for longevity and people are living longer, our population will become disproportionately old people. That means that, after let’s say 37, the average pregnancy drops significantly. That means that the relative ratio of children to people will stay the same. But, even if you have a kid when you’re 37, if you live to 160, that means you’ll have 123 years left after that. Senior citizens make up the least portion of our economy, usually not in working positions or in retirement. Eventually, the healthy work force will be overturned by a incredibly high amount of non-working 100 year old. Countries like Japan have a problem similar to this.
Is longevity selfish?
It is a human tendency to want to live longer. I call it the longevity instinct. We are genetically made to make sure that the human species survives in the long term (reproduction), but as humans, it’s not a trait of ours to think into the future. We all live our own lives, and I’m sure that most of us want to be around for longer than we probably would be. So it is it selfish to want that? Yes. But it’s also OK. I don’t think that living our lives for the next generations, is something we as humans have never done, and I don’t expect that we’ll start anytime soon.
Should we give up on living longer then?
Hell no. I don’t believe we will or even should stop trying to extend the span of human life that is healthy. But, notice the key word healthy. There are 2 ‘spans’ that human longevity experts look at, life span, and health span. If you need an explanation: an article I wrote. Basically, the difference between the two, is living for a really long time, and the other being healthy for a really long time. In my opinion, we should focus on the latter. I think, someone that is healthy for 100 years of their life, and dies at the age of 102, had a biologically better life than someone who was only healthy till 70, but lived till 160.
Overall, I see human longevity as one of the most inspiring, and upcoming fields in science, and most likely in the next century, the most impactful. But, just as we begin to see a potential in the extension of our lives, we must be very mindful of the ethical considerations that will eventually spring up, and to be aware of the next generations of humans to come.
Science and technology are the keys to both our longevity and our demise. Our entire existence on this planet is a double-edged sword.
- Rhys Darby
Before you go
I’m Saras, an aspiring innovator, who loves to explore and learn. Student at The Knowledge Society. Science & Tech & Ethics & Philosophy. I also post semi-weekly. Ish. Consider subscribing?