Controversy

Can we live very long life-spans? If we can, Is it moral?

 

Tombstones

Can we defeat death? A growing number of scientists and philosophers believe we can. But, do we want to live forever? And should we? [Credit: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health]

Many scientists believe that children born today, in the western world at least, will live to an average of 100 years. What happens after that is uncertain, but many influential thinkers believe it will be ultimately possible for mankind to defeat death – to become immortal.

The questions we pose in this episode of Life Matters (episode 10) is: Do we want to live forever? and if we did would it be the right thing to do?

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This week’s contributors:

Professor Andrew Jackson 

An evolutionary biologist at TCD, Andrew gave us examples of animals that live very long lives, which are hard to kill, as well as the routine growing of ‘immortal’ cell lines by scientists to study cancer. He ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if science found a way if not in his own lifetime, in the lifetime of his children, for people to become immortal.

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Zoltan Istvan 

Transhumanist, who wants to live for several centuries. He knows the value of life, having survived many near death experiences on a number of exploring adventures around the world. He has been nominated as the Presidential Candidate for Transhumanist Party of the US in the 2016 US Election. The goal of his party is to conquer death. and he and his colleagues believe that ageing can be stopped and reversed by science and technology.

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Dr John Messerly 

Dr Messerly is an author, philosopher and transhumanist who has written extensively on God and religion. He believes that technology will make it possible for humans to defeat death – the greatest evil. He would like to live forever, to do the many things that there is no time to do over a normal human life. There may be some people that don’t want to live forever, he says, and for those people, suicide should be permissible if they want to opt out.

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Stephen Cave

An author, and former British diplomat, he wrote the award-winning book ‘Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization’. He believes that humans tell themselves 4 types of stories to cope with the idea of death and to provide an illusion that they will somehow live forever. These stories are common across all cultures and religions. He believes that these stories are all appealing, but false, so every moment of life on Earth is precious.

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Professor Christine Overall 

A Canadian philosopher that believes that it is ethically justifiable to enable people to live very long lives, perhaps up to the maximum possible, around 120 or 140. It is important, Professor Overall states, that people who have often lived very hard lives, are permitted to do some of the things that they have not been able to do at the end of their lives. She rejects the idea there is ‘duty to die’ at a certain age. This is sexist, she says because women live longer, and so will suffer more from such a duty, and ageist, because it assumes that elderly people are a ‘burden’ on society.

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Professor John Ludwig

An American philosopher and the leading proponent of the idea that people have an ethical ‘duty to die’ once they reach a certain age. Prof Ludwig believes that it is wrong for people to become a burden on the younger generation and consume society’s resources long past the point where they can look after themselves or contribute to society. He believes that people living longer, perhaps indefinitely long lives, would create unsustainable pressures on society.

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