The Ethics of Longevity and Our Technological Imperative
The Ethics of Longevity and Our Technological Imperative
The Ethics of Longevity and Our Technological Imperative
By Lauren Burr
Table of Contents
One of the most quintessential questions we ask as humans is: How can I live longer or forever? Our instinct is to fight death; to want to live forever, or at least significantly past our current “expiration date.” In the media and movies, the question of the possibility of living forever is often answered with some far-fetched response involving the word “magic;” however, scientists are developing and refining technologies such as cryonics, tissue engineering, and caloric restriction, that may provide us with a little, or a lot, more Life. Most healthy humans want a longer lifespan, and with advances in medicine and bio-technologies, it is definitely on the horizon. So the new question is: Should we use it? This paper explores our technological imperative- “…that new technologies are inevitable and essential and that they must be developed and accepted for the good of society…” (Technological Imperative)–specifically through arguments on accessibility and quality of life. Advances in science have made many things that seemed impossible possible and have extended our lifespan significantly in the last centuries, so there is no doubt in my mind that somewhere in the near future we will invent the technology to make us live even longer. The only thing we need to figure out is how to regulate and distribute (or not distribute) the discovery. Should everyone get it? Should no one? How will this implementation affect our lives and the structure of our society? All of these questions are essential to addressing our technological imperative.
There are many recent scientific advances that elicit questions about the ethics of life extension, but I will specifically focus on cryonics, organ replacement, and caloric restriction. Other means are certainly possible; if we find a cure to cancer or heart disease, than those previously affected will live longer. However, everyone will still only live to the average lifespan of around 80 years and we would see a significant increase in Alzheimer’s disease (Average Life Span Expectancy Chart) and other diseases of aging. Curing one disease after another isn’t a real solution to longevity; technologies that can radically extend our measly 80 years into 120, 180 years, 280 years, 1000 years and so on are the true solutions. Some of those technologies are cryonics, organ replacement, and caloric restriction.
Cryonics is the “low-temperature preservation of animals and humans” who cannot be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future (Cryonics). The idea is simple: a fatal disease is killing someone, and freezing the body at immediately after the point of death gives science time to a) figure out how to unfreeze the person successfully and b) find a cure for their disease (A Unique Concept in Cryonics). As of today, scientists are able to freeze pieces of strong, young, healthy tissue and muscle and systematically unfreeze them to produce healthy tissue again; however, the resuscitation process has not been successful for a whole human body, or even a head. And it does not answer the question of how to bring back and cure the diseased tissues and systems of a dead patient. Despite these serious scientific limitations, there are still companies that have started offering cryopreservation—at a cost. For a full body cryopreserve, the cost is upward of $200,000 dollars. For just a head, it is around $80,000 (Required Costs and Cryopreservation Fund Minimums). The cost covers the cryonic procedure and maintenance of the continuous cryonic state over years, decades, perhaps centuries. It also goes toward researching the technology to successfully unfreeze the client and cure the cause of their death.
In the procedure of cryopreservation, the patient is gradually brought into a cryonic state at a very low temperature (-320F), at which all biological activity stops, including the biochemical reactions that lead to cell death and DNA degradation. The process goes like this: first the patient has to legally be proclaimed dead (heart stops), then the body is packed in ice and injected with an anticoagulant until it can be transported to a cryonics facility. Once there, the cryonics team begins the process called vitrification–deep cooling without freezing—by replacing water in the body’s cells with a glycerol-based chemical mixture called a cryoprotectant (Grossman). This protects the organs and tissues from forming ice crystals and bursting. At this point, the body is cooled on a bed of dry ice to -202F, which completes the vitrification process (Cryogenics Working Principle). Finally, the body is placed in an individual pod that is then submerged in liquid nitrogen and kept at -320F. This state must be maintained continuously to keep the body in suspended animation (How is Cryonics Performed?).
Then–and here is where science has not yet succeeded–once we have discovered the cure for their disease, we supposedly unfreeze them and restore them to healthy life.
Since it has not worked yet, it is impossible to say how many extra years the patient will receive and at what quality of life. However, if we can successfully wake up a human, free of disease, then death could become largely obsolete. And while you sleep frozen scientists are not curing just your disease, they are potentially curing all diseases and discovering vaccines for other top killers. With the extinction of these natural killers, you would wake up to a world where everybody lives significantly longer.
Though this technology might seem a medical “holy grail,” there are ethical issues to consider. This process is very costly, which raises the ethical issue of fairness: how can we get the technology to everyone? Not everyone could have access to this life-renewing treatment so who should get it? And if people are living much longer, how do we control population and resources? How would this affect people’s quality of life? People will wake up in a completely different time period with completely different technology and social norms, so how will they function? And how will relationships, family and friends, be affected?
Another new technology is organ replacement through tissue engineering. Recently scientists have created technology that allows us to grow human organs and tissue from scratch. These new organs and tissue are genetically identical to the original organs from each individual, so there is no chance of rejection. While this is great news for people on the transplant list, this is also great news for scientists looking into longevity. The hope with this technology is that throughout life, humans could come in and get “renewed” (Cole). The main issue with aging is that our organs and tissue were not meant to last that long, so by replacing them every decade or so (the details of this still need to be worked out) we could essentially prolong life, perhaps indefinitely.
In tissue engineering, new organs are created, or grown, from “scratch.” First, a “scaffold” must either be sculptured or reused (Hansman, Lewis). For growing a bladder, one could simply sculpt a spherical shape made of biomaterial (cartilage, collagen, gelatin); an esophagus could grow from a tube shape (Atala). However, the scaffold of more complex organs like the heart must be achieved through decellularization, a process in which all the cells of a dead heart are cleared away with a gentle detergent, leaving only the white base structure (Clark, The Heart Makers, Maher). Second, a sample of the patient’s cells (preferably from the organ or tissue of interest, but if not possible, normal cells will be transformed into stem cells and then into the specific cells) will be grown to a plentiful amount and then systematically layered on top of the scaffold. This process allows each layer to attach and grow, building on the previous layer until the organ is fully developed. Third, the organ or tissue comes to life. In some instances, an ear, for example, is attached to the back of a rat (under the skin) to induce proper blood flow and further growth (Bioprinting Process). In other instances, such as with hearts and lungs, the organs can be directly hooked up to machines to keep in working and to exercise the muscles further.
With this process, there seems to be no reason that we wouldn’t be able to live forever. Replace the old and dying with the new, and voila! People will no longer face death and disease that originate from old body parts. Of course, since the technology has not been finalized, it is impossible to say that this is how it will work out. Maybe there will be some issue that prevents people from replacing all of their body parts. Or maybe it will turn out to be impossible to replace all of the muscles in the body. But, if the technology continues to progress along the first path, it could allow us to live much, much longer.
Despite its obvious benefits, there are a few ethical considerations that need to be mentioned. Much like with cryonics and any new technology, this will be expensive. There will be a cost for the time spent growing cells and layering them, there will be a cost for using a scaffold from a previous “owner” or for building a new one, and there will be a cost for the actual surgery. Not everyone can get this, so again, who should? Also, if people are living much longer, how do we control population and resources? What is the effect on quality of life? And when it comes to the point that someone has replaced all of their organs, muscles, tissues, bones (anything that could get old and die), is that person still the person they were before any replacements? Or if the scaffolds of the more complex organs are not of human origin, at what point, if ever, does the recipient become not human? These issues, though not completely related to the technological imperative, open up other potential ethical and philosophical issues.
The last approach I will explore for increasing human lifespan is caloric restriction, an old “treatment” which proposed that eating less (specifically 30% fewer calories) may increase the human lifespan by about 20 years or so.
The research on caloric restriction has been extensive and long-coming. In a study in 1934 at Cornell University, scientists announced that they had doubled the lifespan of laboratory rats by putting them on near starvation diets. This seemed counter intuitive since doctors for years have been saying to eat more vitamins since it was thought that vitamin deficiencies were causing illnesses. Another study conducted in 2009 in Wisconsin focused on monkeys. For 27 years (since 1982) scientist fed two groups of monkeys: one with a normal, full diet, and another with 30% fewer calories. By the end of the experiment, they had concluded that monkeys on the restricted diet were much less likely to contract diseases of old age including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Caloric restriction seemed to extend not just the monkey’s lifespan, but extended healthy lifespan (Masci).
At this point, it looked like there was a pattern of longevity in the monkey study. However, in 2012 the NIA (National Institute of Aging) studied the same species of monkey for around the same period of time and these results showed no perceivable difference in longevity between the two diets. Since the results of the original study were not able to be replicated, it is considered invalid and no real conclusions can be drawn. Yet it did show, similar to the 2009 one, that the restricted-diet monkeys had fewer incidents of cancer and lower levels of blood sugar and cholesterol (Masci).
Whether increasing life or not, having fewer diseases benefits everyone, so scientists are still interested in researching calorie restriction. Now obviously not everyone would, or even has the willpower to eat 30% fewer calories, so scientists are trying to create a drug that effortlessly mimics a state of starvation in the body. They are looking closely at resveratrol, a substance found in the skin of grapes that has been proven to lengthen healthy life in yeast cells and mice. It is believed that the compound works by activating a gene (SIRT1) that is also active when subjects are going through caloric restriction, or starvation. There is a family of these genes called sirtuins and they regulate cell waste. When people and animals age, these sirtuins are less active, making the body’s waste system less and less efficient. It is believed that is a factor in aging, fostering an environment in which cancer and heart disease thrive. With the introduction of this potential “calorie restriction” drug, people would live longer since they would not be affected by these deadly diseases. Also since it keeps the body clean and waste free, the extended life will be very healthy. Of the treatments described here, such a drug would provide the least number of extra years–perhaps 20–but it is the closest to being available (Masci).
Taking a pill to gain 20 years of healthy life sounds great, but we run into the same ethical questions: would everybody have equal access to this drug and its benefits, and if not, what are the repercussions? New, effective drugs are generally very costly, so one that would prolong healthy life will likely be even more expensive. What would be affect on society if only the wealthy had access to the extra 20 years? Will relationships change with these extra years? World population control be a factor? And if this drug provides an extra 20 years at the end of life, would anyone want to use it?
It is impossible to predict if any of these three technologies will give us our increase in longevity, but their introduction brings to the table bigger questions about access to healthcare and quality of life. Each technology has its own specific questions as well that must be considered once we know what it is that will allow us to live longer. Are there any side-effects? Would our extra time be able to be used when in our “prime”? How much does it cost? All are questions that need to specifically be asked once the technology is known.
Ethical Future Scenario
To make it easier to evaluate ethical arguments regarding our technological imperative, we need to simplify the scenario. Let’s assume there is a single-dose pill that will extend your life approximately 200 years so that the average life expectancy is 280 years, not just 80. Over your 280 years, you will be healthy and will age, but over a stretched out period of time. The beginning stages of life (infant to toddler to child to teenager) will take the same amount of time, roughly 17-20 years, but past that, you age more slowly. You can think of it as being in the physical health of a 20-30 year old for 120 years, 30-50 for 120 years, and 40 for the remaining years. As you can see, you are at “peak” for a very long time, while beginning and end of life take a short amount of time, comparatively speaking. You are able to work and have kids well into your mid 200s (probably a cap around 230). Taking the pill earlier in life is necessary because if you don’t and take it when you are 80 (in normal human body), then you would be in the physical health of an 80-year-old for 200 more years. Taking the pill early allows for growth. There are no side effects from the pill. You can still die earlier due to traumatic injury, but the natural life is 280 years. Disease has not been eradicated, but by now (and since people are living much longer) we are very close. When evaluating the following arguments, remember that this is the world now.
Accessibility is making everything obtainable and attainable, and for something to be truly accessible, it must be so to all people. But not everyone has food, not everyone has water, and not everyone has shelter. This lack of accessibility creates inequality and is fundamentally unfair.
Equality and fairness are different ethical values. Imagine three people of different heights (short, average, tall) all standing on a box watching a baseball game over a fence. The tall person and the average person can both see the field clearly, but the short person can’t see even with the added height of the box. This is equality; everyone has exactly one box of the same height. However, the short person still cannot see, so to make this fair, the tall person, who doesn’t need the box to see, should give his box to the short person. In this scenario, not everyone has equal resources, but it is fair (Sun).
Modern accessibility is typically decided by the market: if you can pay, you can have it. This poses an obvious issue for people at the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum, who struggle to afford food and housing, let alone the latest technology or luxury items. These items are reserved for the enjoyment of the upper classes. In America today, the top 5%, make more than $160,000 per year, and the working poor (“those whose incomes fall below a given poverty line” of $11,720 per year) represent 14.5% of our country (Dogen, The Huffington Post, What Are the Poverty Thresholds and Poverty Guidelines). Of course there are plenty of other classes in the world, but these are just the extremes in our country.
One of the main issues with accessibility is that the gap between the rich and the poor will increase (Pijnenburg). Every new technology costs money. Since only the rich would presumably be able to purchase our hypothetical longevity pill, they will be the only ones who benefit from the extra 200 years. The wealthy will now have even more time to amass even more wealth. The poor are left with their relatively short and less-profitable 80 years. Should we allow those who already have so much to be the only beneficiary of this new technology? This case of accessibility relates to fairness. The differences in access and benefits arise because of the market/monetary system we use and it is problematic because the ethical values of equality and fairness are compromised.
On the other hand, although with our market system new technologies are accessible only to the wealthy to begin with, eventually they become available to everyone. Take for example iPhones. With its first release as a new technology the phone was very expensive and few could get it; however, now almost everyone has one (iPhone US Pricing History). If this increasing accessibility would reliably happen with every product, then it may not be a bad system. But we cannot prove that the “iPhone effect” will take place with this pill. It may end up a high-end luxury item like the famous Birkin bags that still sell for $10,000 to $60,000 (Birkin Bags). Maybe after years of letting the market dictate distribution, prices still may not adjust. And what if this hypothetical pill can only be produced in small quantities? The price would continue to stay high because of limited quantities, causing this form of distribution to fail in equality.
Giving the medicine to the “best” people may be another way to distribute. I use the word “best” in quotations because in this sense especially it has eugenic connotations, which I am not trying to imply. Of course now we run into the issue of deciding who the best are. How would we choose? Gender? Race? Religion? In trying to determine the “best,” these are at best superficial characteristics. Maybe we could sort by career? This has some potential as this way the new society could be full of what one might typically define as the “smart people.” So our scientists, engineers, doctors, historians, and inventors now have 200 extra years to research and devise a better way to administer and improve life for all others. Perhaps this would create a higher likelihood of equality for the future. Yet distinguishing by career has its drawbacks: for most of the world, these careers require an education that assumes a certain socioeconomic status. We might exclude those who simply cannot afford to become a doctor. Choosing by career is just the monetary system in a different form, so it has many cons.
There are many other ways to decide the “best” people. One way is through an IQ test or Standardized test to gauge intelligence. This, as with the SAT and ACT and APs and IBs, gives a relative scale of intelligence. However, with this system, money still has quite an influence. The rich would pay for tutors to help their children score better so that they could live longer. Unlike today’s standardized test, scoring well on this will give you 200 more years to live. There‘s a lot riding on this one test, and the rich would most certainly be prepping from an early age with everything that not everyone could afford. However, since all would know how important this one test would be, it is very likely that education would become more prominent, and hence raise the intelligence of every community. It would give people a real incentive to learn at the highest levels. So in this hypothetical scenario, we now have the smartest of the smart living longer to improve life for everyone, and the “normal” people who don’t get the technology are also very educated.
One issue with a standardized test is that people who are smart, but who are dyslexic or don’t test well, would not be given the opportunity to live longer. There could be smart people with disabilities like Stephen Hawking and Helen Keller who wouldn’t even be able to take the test (Top 10 Extraordinary People with Disabilities). On the other hand, an evil genius would do brilliantly and might be given an extra 200 years to perfect mayhem and misery. So, no, an intelligence screening would not necessarily yield our “best.”
Instead of testing, or even in addition to testing, there could be an interview in order to see personality, interests, passions, work ethic, psychological stability. This way we could assess problem-solving ability and other desirable traits that don’t show in a standardized test. Using this method would effectively make receiving the pill equivalent to scoring a high-paying job. However this plan is not foolproof either. As with other test scenarios, the rich would be able to afford to prep for this. Imagine the mental strain on the interviewers would have to evaluate a human’s worth to live. This god-like power to bestow extra life will be misused, intentionally or not, to award someone the pill who does not actually possess the qualities needed. Also, who’s to say that these selected smart people will even use their intelligence to help solve any problems? We are selecting for intelligence in the hopes that equality will be solved in the future, but that is not definitive.
Another feasible way distribution is a lottery/random system. With this possibility, everything is equal. Everyone does have the opportunity, but not everyone will get it. However it does not result in positive side-effects like giving everybody a reason to educate themselves. In fact, if people think it is purely luck that will get them the extra life (which is would be), they may try even less. There will certainly be instances where people who work hard don’t get the pill, and people who don’t work hard, get the pill. Being random does technically make this equal, but it is certainly not fair as seen in the example above.
We could make the medication free and available to everyone, although nothing has ever been successfully given to everyone in the world. This gesture is equal and fair; however, the main issue with this is population control. People will have 280 years to have families (probably multiple families) with lots of children and Earth can only sustain so many people. There is currently a net increase of two babies per second (World Birth and Death Rates). It could be argued we are already overpopulated and that having even more people need resources from the planet would cause a lot of us to die. There is a max capacity of people who can survive on a limited number of resources, and once a population exceeds that point, mass numbers will die (Carrying Capacity). Since we don’t know our max capacity, we can’t judge how many people will die. Speaking from a utilitarian and consequentialist perspective, the pill wouldn’t be good for population and would not be worth all of the death.
This is all an interesting scenario because typically with medicine, the patient has to need it. Someone is dying or has a disease or a cold and needs medicine to be healed. It isn’t something that they would want if not ill. In organ donation, buying organs is illegal, and to get on the list, someone has to need it. But this longevity medication, is not necessary for life or death situations. Yes, technically it is life-extending so it does involve prolonging life, but there is no disease that people are avoiding. Unless aging is considered a disease. This is something that scientist Aubrey de Grey is researching at SENS (SENS Research Foundation, Masci, Corbyn). But if aging is considered a disease that people need to be cured of, how do we determine who needs the pill first? How could someone need more life than others? Or how could someone need life before someone else? Who would be willing to make this call? This just leads down to a path of inequality.
While this pill does have its potential benefits and would be very cool to use, there simply is not a desirable way to implement the technology. Giving, or at least offering, it to everyone would require some action to prevent overpopulation. China’s One-Child Policy? Some other form of regulation? Giving it to only some people opens a whole other can of worms in which we would have to decide who should get it over others? Do we decide by who can pay? Intelligence? Lottery? With any decision in which one human is chosen over another, we are essentially playing God: a system that we know never ends well. The only other option is to not distribute at all. This isn’t to say that pursuing technology and medicine related to longevity should be discouraged since research may lead to a discovery that could help people, but we should not implement it with the intention of making people live significantly longer. The counterargument to this is that giving medicine to cure a cold or having surgery to remove a ruptured appendix will prolong life and the “pill” is just prolonging life as well, so we should use the technology. This is true, but the pill will extend life for 200 more years, well past our paltry 80 years and well into uncharted territory. With a technology such as caloric restriction, we would only receive around 20 more years, which is significantly more feasible than 200, and we wouldn’t necessarily have to change our distribution system. In terms of the pill’s parameters, it is simply too big of a jump and would require many difficult, unfair, and unequal decisions.
Quality of Life
The pill would certainly affect the quality of life at the individual level, relationship level, and societal level. For many individuals, having this pill could affect motivation as they contemplate having so much time. Typically when people are up against a deadline, they make the most of their time and get a lot done, but if they have a lot of time to do something, they often wait until the last minute (this is why procrastination is so popular). Of course not everyone does this, but the majority of people do some procrastination, while 20% are chronic procrastinators (Jaffe). Translating this to longevity, if people now have 280 years to live instead of just 80, they may waste time and feel unmotivated. The term “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) became popular and represents an anthem for the young who realize this is their only time to do some things. However with the pill, people will have many, many, many opportunities to do any number of things. Having this pill might result in people who just put things off and who are unwilling to take risks. Also with all of this extra time, people may never commit to doing one thing or being in a relationship. Now there is pressure to have a career, fall in love, have a family, all before age 40 at the latest. But people, knowing they have around 200 years before they start getting old, may never commit to a profession or to another person because they have all of this extra time.
Of course, with all this extra time, people will get to do a lot. Sure there may be people who fall into the lifestyle mentioned before, but there are also those who may realize they have all of this time and that they want to do everything. They want to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, historian, anything is possible with 280 years. Or people could feel that they now have all of this time to really become an expert in one particular field. This would be an example of extreme commitment, the exact opposite of what was mentioned earlier. It could also be understood that there will be more time to establish one’s self in a profession before settling down. Right now people feel rushed to fit everything in while they are still young, but with the longevity medication, there is the option to securely establish yourself in a particular field before creating any relationships. In reality, it could really go either way: people being motivated or not. there is no way to definitively tell because both of these behaviors occur regularly.
This pill could also drastically affect our personal and interpersonal relationships. Foremost would be a change to how we view marriage. Today, the average American marriage that ends in divorce is around 8 years (Kreider). There are marriages that last until death do they part, but that is still typically only around 60 years. Putting this in context of the pill and being able to live until 280, will people sign on for 240 or so years with the same partner? People could have 15-20 marriages within one lifetime. And this brings up the question of children and families. One person could have 15 “generations” within their own family. 15 families. 15 sets of children. How would that work? Humans can be jealous and selfish creatures. If you share children with someone who has to leave every day to check on his or her other families, that could get old very quickly. Also you would have to check in on your own other families and children. If this is the path relationships take, then how would anyone have time for their “current” family?
All of this would be a significant change that is hard to view in a positive light. However, we must remember that relationships have changed before and can again. Hundreds of years ago, when we only lived into our 30s or so, marriage was for life and divorce didn’t exist. But now, as we live well into our 80s, the divorce rate has grown exponentially. We used to have kids at age 14, but that was when we only lived until we were 30. Now we have kids later, 30s or so, because we live into our 80s (Kolata). Education did not figure as prominently, mainly because all time in the old days was dedicated to working the farms and helping with the family business . But as some disease has been eradicated and as we, as a population are living longer, we have put this extra time to good use. We now go to high school, college, graduate school, get a Ph.D. We expand what we do, how our society functions as we get more years to live. There is no reason this pattern of growth and progress should not continue, with us living hundreds of years or thousands.
If we return to the idea of one person having even 10 different families with children within their lifetime, the issue of population control rears its ugly head again. As previously mentioned, the Earth can only sustain so many people. If humans with this pill reproduce as they do today, we would quickly reach carrying capacity and many people will die as a result of resource scarcity.
But maybe relationships won’t play out that way. Maybe we will take extra time to find the right life-partner after successfully establishing ourselves in our careers. Maybe we will wait to have kids until we do everything we want; travel the world, be every profession, meet everyone. If this is what happens, if it is just a stretched-out human life now, then we shouldn’t have to worry about population. However, if we have many marriages, families, and kids, then there must be a way to regulate our population.
We could try to regulate using a One-Child Policy like what China enforced from 1978-2015. Or we could ban childbirth until a certain age. Or we could pick who get to have child and who doesn’t. But all of these are very unequal and very unfair. If we are still a world that values fairness and equality, then this won’t work. It will make people unhappy, cause a revolt, and in the end people will still have as many babies as they want. That is if we keep our current values. If we do what China did and severely tax those with more than one child, it could work. The One-Child Policy was successful in that the quality of health care and education were improved and there were significantly fewer hungry people; yet it failed because the gender ratio was destroyed (there are an estimated 9 million more boys than girls in China) and it put undue stress on the single child to be able to provide for his or her family (8 Major Pros and Cons, Demographics of China). Based on the science of overpopulation, having too big of a population in one area causes many individuals to die. This was the stress that China felt nearly 40 years ago and the stress that our future society will feel if this pill is used. However, we as humans have previously found ways of getting around ecological limits whereas natural populations have not. It seems we have to decide whether freedom to do what one wants with one’s own body is more important than keeping the current population alive. It’s sort of like we are prioritizing the rights of the current generation at the cost of future generations.
And finally, social structures will change as well. With this pill, there will be a lack of ability to rise or change social ranks. This does depend on how we choose to distribute, but in most cases it would result in a strict social class-system. The rich are the people who would get the pill first, who would get even more time to make even more money. The poor are the people who might not get the pill at all, and are stuck making little for not a lot of time. This huge discrepancy between classes, as described earlier, makes the classes very rigid and strict. There is simply no way for someone who is poor to ever become wealthy. Even when distributing the pill to everyone, the poor still don’t make as much as the rich; the system is frozen. This brings us to the happiness portion of quality of life. If the pill is given to everyone, would the people in poverty just have to endure 280 years versus just 80 years of a miserable lifestyle? It is already established to be hard to switch or change classes so if you start out unhappy with the life you live, there is no chance to become happy. Thinking about this, it only seems natural that suicide rates would increase. But would our society still create the same stigma around suicide? Will it still be considered an evil? Is it normal? Will we have the quick and efficient 25-cent suicide booths like the TV show, Futurama, predicts? Or will the person who prevents a suicide still be considered a hero for saving that person’s life? In some sense, it now seems that complete distribution will only cause pain for the lower classes. So is it then ethical to only give to the rich/ the “best” people? Or should we still offer it universally and then just hope that those with little happiness in life won’t take the pill? It is a difficult circumstance.
There are many unanswerable questions related to quality of life simply because people can act and react in variety of ways. With more time, we could be motivated or unmotivated, we could pursue one career or all of them. But even with all of these questions and possibilities, our day-to-day lives, relationships, and social structure are very fluid; we have changed before and we can do it again. This isn’t to say that some of these queries aren’t serious. I believe overpopulation is a real concern that is going to require a difficult decision one day. Yet, social changes occur everyday and throughout history and it has always worked out. Of course the potential changes illustrated seems scary, but I consider this the same fear people had as the divorce rate climbed exponentially. We will continue to grow, so there is no reason to forbid a helpful technology just because the structure in our lives will change.
As with all ethical arguments, both sides have compelling pros and cons, but I believe we should not use the longevity technology once it is created. The technology would require one of the inherently unequal systems of distribution mentioned before. We could put a price on it, we could make it free, we could give it to just the best people, or we could distribute randomly. However, all of these option are unequal as well as unfair. The only option left is to not distribute at all.
So what do we do now? It is evident that the technological innovation is inevitable (science can do anything), but are the problems outlined here enough too problematic to let the technology emerge uncontrolled? Should we be trying to prevent the emergence, to refuse to give into our technological imperative? Is the inequality here too great to let cost and monetary system dictate access? Are the Quality of Life issues too big? If so, how do we regulate? Do we ban? Do we supervise the administration process? How do we prevent over population? What is the most ethical way to do so? Should we hold off on releasing the technology until we know what to do? Well we can’t be sure. I have only based my conclusions on this purely hypothetical pill. If the technology only allows us to live 50 years longer, or if it allows us to live 500 years longer, I would definitely have different responses and reactions. An extra 50 years doesn’t seem that much more because people have lived into their 120s. That being said, I doubt the social structure or distribution system would need to change much. Whereas if we lived into our 500s, then I believe we would need to consider accessibility, quality of life, and other questions.
There are many facets of this topic that I did not discuss and could not discuss since there are hardly any facts relating to the subject. Safety would be a top concern for most and would surely influence people’s willingness to use the technology, but since we don’t know what will allow us to live longer, we cannot answer that. And maybe population control won’t be an issue with living longer because the drug could have a side-effect in which there is only a 10-year window to have children due to fertility. Autonomy is another issue I didn’t discuss, but that warrants further study. Do people get to choose whether they want to take the drug, or will it be mandated to limit inequality? These issues are hard to predict especially because we do not know the circumstances, but none the less, there are quite a few contradicting, yet compelling arguments. Without a clear “right choice,” there is even more reason to act cautiously around this topic.
My overall advice is to continue examination and research on this subject before letting any technologies go public. Not using the best distribution system could be disastrous and end in a mob and rebellion especially since our society is hyper-sensitive to inequality. People could easily feel something is unfair or unequal and start a rally against the people who decided on the system. Because of this human tendency that has been repeated throughout history (most recently with the issue of abortion), it is crucial that a thorough examination is conducted. Deciding will not be easy, as it was not with my evaluation of the “pill,” because it is a complex ethical issue; yet I still believe that we should not implement the longevity technology.