When science trumps death, how do we decide who lives and who dies? (biologically that is)

Sooner or later, scientific ingenuity will trump biological death and some form of life sustaining medication will be available.

The main question we should ask ourselves is who should get this treatment? Obviously, arbitration of this depends on a number of factors including who developed the cure and in which country. For instance, a large Pharmaceutical company such as GlaxoSmithKline will have a different ethos (and political clout) than a university medical team who may be subject to government pressure on release of the drug.

Death Vaccination for longevity boost

Longevity administer through a vaccination

The hypothetical scenario is this: an easy to administer drug, potentially given in the form and regularity of a vaccination which can halt biological aging for 5 years until the next dosage. It is likely the drug will be refined to increase the length of time between each dose, but for now, let’s take 5 years as our average. The crux of the matter is this… just because the drug is available for everyone, should it be administered as a universal right?

Liberals may be quick to say yes, after all, shouldn’t death be treated as an illness and therefore medical professionals, adhering to Louis Lasagna’s modern day Hippocratic Oath; do everything in their power to prevent death and its causes?


A new meaning to life imprisonment?

What about criminals? It is unlikely that a strong enough argument could be mounted on behalf of those sentenced to life imprisonment, their crimes deemed so severe that they are never to see the outside world again. Considering the cost involved in incarcerating prisoners and at the expense of the tax payer, governments are also unlikely to sanction the prolonged longevity of such a criminal,  If we continue along this theme, should this denial of longer life apply to all murderers? Those that have been sentenced to only 5 or 10 years in prison for instance? It could be argued that their time served should be the extent of their punishment as meted out by a judge and once released, it’s under the assumption that they are suitably chastised and reformed. Prison though is primarily meant as a deterrent to committing a crime in the first place. Perhaps a more effective deterrent and punishment would be that of denying access to life extension, although one could argue that this is soft capital punishment.

Earning your immortality

Should longevity be earned Starship Troopers style?

Until Elon Musk and other visionaries make good on their visions of colonising Mars or a sustainable global resource management system that can effectively cater to the needs of an exponentially growing population is in place, then like it or not, overpopulation is an issue that needs to be factored in. Whilst there are many ways to surmount this problem in the short term, short of interplanetary colonisation, extended life and its contribution to the problem is inevitably going to factor in to that issue. For instance, is the general public of a welfare state such as the United Kingdom going to be supportive of paying taxes of which a proportion will go to those who refuse to work in lieu of benefits and will continue to do so. Potentially a more draconian method should be employed by the government in that only those who have rendered national or voluntary service for the betterment of the state?

Unfortunately the world we live in today is governed by a complex network of politics and competing interests. Would it be outside the realms of possibility for future governments such as the US to attempt to inhibit the distribution of longevity treatments to other countries as part of its foreign policy? How would Russia’s Oligarchs react if a US developed and controlled drug was unobtainable until Putin stepped down or Syria’s Assad (assuming that these two are still in power in this scenario).

There are other positive aspects to controlling a drug… would we want terrorists or other despotic leaders to live longer… it wouldn’t take much for Kim Jong Un to claim Godhood (again) with the gift of immortality. We would just have to hope that there is no ‘creeping’ on the policy of acceptable levels of control of distribution of this wonder drug. As far as politics goes, it would be naive to think that government control would be altruistic and motive free. Perhaps the case should be argued that any direction of distribution of a drug should be placed in the hands of an international body such as the United Nations. This would potentially limit the ability of any one country to use a drug as part of its foreign policy whilst still allowing a modicum of control at the societal level.


What longevity ethics would apply to those in comas?

Other ethical questions would need to be answered. Should someone who has been in a coma for the last 25 years be given a drug in the hopes that they will recover. How should the law decide on extending the life of someone in a vegetative state or who is suffering from a debilitating disease that causes them immense pain. There would certainly be a clash between those arguing for the right to euthanasia and those who are pro-life. Would the latter allow voluntary biological death if it was so easy to extend?

Like anything there will be a myriad of questions and avenues raised from these relatively simple points, for instance would you sentence a murderer who is biologically immortal to life imprisonment… maybe that should be a punishment for those who haven’t already been given an extension. Regardless, in the same way that various tech billionaires are highlighting their concerns as to the development of AI and what safeguards and policies should be set in place, so should a reasoned debate be held on how immortality should be governed.

What are your thoughts?

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