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Life Extension Is Not Selfish

Some people think extending human lifespans is selfish.
Life Extension Is Not Selfish
Date Published: 04/27/2022
Date Modified: 06/23/2022
Some people think extending human lifespans is selfish.

Discussing the potential of slowing down or even reversing aging has become more popular in recent years, but some people suggest that it is selfish to do so. The argument is made that people who are interested in longer lives only think about their own personal benefits while disregarding the common good. Here, we consider if this objection to increasing healthy human life holds any water.

Aging research and rejuvenation are gaining popularity

The topic of life extension has become more popular and visible in the last few years. Increasing mainstream media coverage is happening, and as a result, more people are discussing and debating its desirability. Unfortunately, this means that more people outside the field are talking about it, and not always in accurate ways.

Mainstream media articles can often be conservative at best and fear-mongering at worst. They tend to focus on the potential downsides of life-extending technologies without paying much (or even any) attention to the potential benefits.

This is often due to a lack of understanding and a misinterpretation of the goals of life extension and what it is and what is it not. Ultimately, the goal is to make chronologically old and chronologically young people, at every physical level, indistinguishable from one another.

The main benefit of doing this is that making someone biologically younger should reduce that person’s risk of developing the familiar diseases of aging, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and so on. This is because advancing biological age is the primary risk factor for these and many other age-related diseases. Researchers in this field hope that by treating the reasons we age, we can tackle multiple age-related diseases at once. In this way, healthy longevity would also be a likely positive side effect of making an older person biologically younger.

Unfortunately, whenever the discussion of increasing healthy human lifespans is raised, the argument that it is selfish is sure to surface. It is not too hard to see why this low-effort argument against life extension is flawed.

It is not selfish to want to reduce suffering

Life extension is about eliminating the suffering caused by the diseases of old age, and at this stage, it is not clear if or when this might happen. People who work in or support the field may not even live long enough to see such a world arrive. Even knowing that, they are still motivated to make it happen to reduce the suffering that age-related diseases cause.

Of course, that is not to suggest that researchers and advocates only do what they do for the sake of others, because that would not be true. However, the opposite suggestion that all advocates of life extension are only in it for selfish reasons is also quite a stretch. That’s a bit like someone claiming that all women’s rights advocates who happen to be women only care about this cause for their own benefit and not at all for their fellow women, which is, of course, equally outrageous.

Anyway, it’s impossible to prove or disprove that life extensionists are all selfless, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that being a life extensionist implies that you care about global issues that are a threat to everyone and thus about the common good.

The reason is quite simple: if you intend to live for a really long time, then aging is only one of your problems.

Defeating aging won’t be much use to you if climate change kills everyone a few decades after aging has been defeated, for example. Similarly, you want to be sure that you will not die of starvation, so it is in your best interest to support the development of better and more efficient ways to produce more food in a sustainable fashion; you want to be sure that pollution will never reach such levels that your life would be threatened as a result; and more generally, any far-future issue that would normally not be your problem during a normal lifespan suddenly becomes your problem too.

Many life extensionists worry about access to rejuvenation biotechnology

Closer to home, the dreaded specter of unequal access to healthcare and technology in general is an extremely important issue for life extensionists, because unlike what innumerable clickbait articles like to make you think, most life extensionists aren’t tech billionaires; they’re average joes who wouldn’t be able to afford super-expensive therapies, and you can bet that they will be the first in line to lobby for cheap access to treatment the moment it becomes available, if not earlier.

On a positive side note, the dystopian scenario of a few rich people hoarding rejuvenation biotechnology for themselves while the rest of the world is left to age to death becomes very hard to believe when you notice that it’s self-defeating; the more people who are left out of rejuvenation, the larger the angry mob revolting against the few selfish rich people keeping the technology for themselves.

Also, it does not seem particularly logical to exclude the workers who keep the world running and do all the important jobs that the rich folks also benefit from.

All life extensionists have an interest in having these important problems addressed; they all have an interest in the common good, which means that pursuing life extension implies supporting or endorsing a number of causes that are important for everyone. This could hardly be called selfishness. Granted, one could be a supporter of global causes exclusively for selfish reasons, thereby doing something good for questionable motives.

However, the benefits in this regard would be tangible for everyone, even if the motivation was self-preservation, the result is still beneficial to all.

Supporting life extension does not mean you cannot support other important causes

Of course, not all life extensionists are necessarily active, vocal advocates of all other global causes; this doesn’t mean that they don’t care, it means that, like everyone else, they only have 24 hours a day, and effective advocacy requires time.

We have even encountered some articles complaining that life extensionists aren’t busy with other important causes as well, such as pollution or rights for this or that minority. We are skeptical that the same authors would complain about environmentalists not being sufficiently engaged in defending women’s rights. This is because both of these important causes are widely popular, so their supporters don’t need to justify their preference.

But because life extension hasn’t reached the same level of popularity, some people seem to think that life extensionists must also show support to other, more acceptable, causes first, as if that were somehow necessary to legitimize their efforts in life extension. This is, of course, ridiculous, because if life extension is worthy of support, it is worthy whether or not its supporters are engaged in other causes as well.

That life extension is indeed worthy of support is straightforward, because just like the fight against world hunger, it’s about eliminating something that causes people prolonged suffering followed by death. The only difference is that, by some highly debatable measures, starving people haven’t yet lived long enough, whereas old people have.

Similarly, not many people bring up the potential overpopulation side effect of saving people from starvation, yet overpopulation is often the first thing to be objected to when it comes to saving people from aging!

Life extension is the opposite of selfish

In closing, someone is selfish when his actions benefit only him to the detriment of others; if done right, life extension will be the greatest benefit of all time, for individuals, their loved ones, and society in general. It’s hard to imagine how any of that could ever been seen as selfish.