The Question of Immortality : Should Humans Live Forever?
In certain academic circles, there has recently been a push towards researching life-prolonging technology. It now appears that humans may, in the foreseeable future, be capable of extending the average lifespan by a very significant amount, perhaps even by several millennia. The ultimate goal is to completely eliminate the aging process, effectively allowing humans to live forever. Obviously, such bold propositions have caused quite a lot of controversy, and many people feel either that it is not morally correct to extend the human lifespan, or that doing so will create unresolvable problems with society. Such opposition to life-prolonging technologies is not based on very reasonable arguments, however. There are not sufficient rational reasons to prevent the extension of human life.
One very common argument is that the introduction of immortality will take away the human identity. This relies upon the concept that mortality is one of the defining characteristics of the human species. Firstly, I would like to establish the fact that the proposed technologies would not, in fact, make humans completely immortal. They aim only to eliminate the process of aging, meaning that death by any other means would still be possible (de Grey). In fact, I think that it is impossible to achieve complete immortality, and if there exists a possibility of death, then it follows that there is either a certainty of eventual death, or an end to time itself. Second, it is my opinion that the mass rejection of such an opportunity in favour of a more natural lifespan would be both hypocritical and morally wrong. Throughout history, humans have tried their hardest to both improve and elongate their lives. It has been a central ambition of society to distance ourselves from animals, to defeat the limitations of nature. For a person to make a solid argument in favour of a natural lifespan without being hypocritical, they must also support the undoing of current medical practices and technologies which permit longer lives. To carry out such a proposal is both ludicrous and immoral. Some may choose to make such a decision for themselves, but barring society as a whole from such benefits, even singly those of more significant life extension, would require the introduction of an immoral regulatory program which would deny people their right to life.
A second common concern is that of overpopulation, which raises the related scenario of population control. It is correct that the implementation of such a program would be of equal moral concern, but not so much as to justify the implementation of a program limiting the development of life-prolonging research. How is the right to reproduction more important than the right to life? It might also be mentioned that overpopulation is already a problem. In fact, it may be that the Earth’s population will reach the staggering number of eleven billion by 2035 (“World Population”). Even if life extension research is stopped, the dilemma of overpopulation will still have to be addressed. It will most likely become a larger problem because of lifespan prolongation, but in no way would a completely new difficulty be introduced. Such a problem might also partially resolve itself. There is already a movement to slow human reproduction due to overpopulation, and a proven increase in the number of women choosing not to have children (“Childless by Choice”). Given that people will be living far longer lives, it is doubtful that childbearing will be seen as an urgent need, and people may even take voluntary measures to limit reproduction without need of regulation.
Many people also have concerns regarding the structure of the family institution, human interaction, and whether relationships and memories can withstand the test of eternity. The answer to this question, most likely, is no. The important question to be asked, however, is whether or not it even matters. The classical family structure is already being redefined, perhaps even unravelled. In recent years, marriage rates have been decreasing, while divorce rates have been increasing (“Various Views of Divorce”). While there is a large number of people concerned with this trend, it does not appear to be destroying our society. While two people can’t be expected to love each other for thousands of years, this probably will not have any massively negative effects on society. So far as the memories and personal identities are concerned, I think that this is a non-issue. People’s personalities and identities already change significantly over time, and memories are forgotten. By the nature of the human mind, something important to an individual will be frequently recalled and well remembered. If something is forgotten after a long period of time, it has obviously lost its importance and significance.
Many critics worry that only the rich will have access to life-extending technology, or that people who damage society will gain the ability to live forever. While this is certainly a possibility, we are fortunate enough that the people most interested in developing this research are the residents of democratic countries, and that they are not keeping secrets. Quite to the contrary, they are trying to publicize their work as much as possible in order to gain funding (de Grey). If people want anti-aging technology enough, they will be capable of obtaining it through use of the political system. When confronting the topic of undesirable individuals living forever, it should be remembered that they can still die. Plainly put, if someone such as a dictator is unwanted enough, they will eventually be killed. People who lack ambition are not really an issue, as they are not a new problem in society. In fact, this issue might resolve itself. With enough time, almost anyone will eventually get up and do something productive.
Finally, there is the issue of academia and the lack of input from fresh minds. If the same people stick around for too long, will the same stale ideas continue to circulate? To the contrary, I do not think that this will be a problem at all. There will always be conflict and debate over ideas. It is extremely improbable that everyone will eventually come to a consensus on the nature of things. Even if this did eventually happen, I fail to see how it would be a bad thing. In addition, there will most likely be a cycling of contributors to the academic community. Even someone with an undying passion for their work will eventually want to try something different, and this will make room for alternative views. Age and experience might also improve things in the area of academia. Many of humanity’s problems are caused by haste, or lack of knowledge or experience. Such things would not be nearly so large an issue if the life expectancy were drastically increased. People might also become more ambitious with long-term projects that they would not now undertake simply due to the time constraints of life.
There will always be people who want to live forever, and there may well be the possibility that they can manage to achieve this goal. Even if restrictions and regulatory programs were introduced to prevent anti-aging research from being undertaken, I do not think that they would be capable of completely preventing it. Ways of prolonging life as much as possible will eventually be found. It does not make sense to attempt the restriction of such technologies when it cannot even be sufficiently justified. People should be given the right to carry out this research, just as others should be given the choice of whether or not to use the technology once it has been developed.