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Attitudes to life extension via genetic engineering

Patrick O'Neil patrick at corona
Sun Feb 12 17:18:11 EST 1995



On Sun, 12 Feb 1995, John de Rivaz wrote:

> I have been asked to gather information on attitudes of optimism and 
> resistance to life extension by genetic programming. 
> 
> In addition to discussion on these newsgroups [bionet.molbio.ageing, 
> sci.life-extension, sci.cryonics] we need to know if there are any other 
> newsgroups who would provide intelligent non-emotional arguments about 
> it, for and against.

I had some problems with our server so I don't know if this is redundant 
but here goes (again):

I have spent a lot of time considering the possibilities of life 
extension mediated by genetic engineering or, more likely, biological 
manipulation.  I cannot deny an attraction to a much longer youth filled 
with ever more experiences and learning (perhaps a few Ph.D's?) but...

Conversely, I have considered the wideer ramifications of such 
manipulations and capabilities and have come to the conclusion that 
significant life extension in general would be disastrous.  The worl 
population is already booming and there is concern about the environment 
and available resources for the ever-growing minions.  Let's say that the 
ability to extend human lifespan by 40 or 50 years was developed.  Right 
now, in developed nations, there are about 4 simultaneous generations 
alive at any one moment.  With a general life extension of that I 
mentioned in existence and in use, this would lead to an instant increase 
in the number of generations to 5 or 5.5.  If people continue haveing 2 
to 2.5 kids per household in developed nations, that adds several billion 
extra people to the population load within one generation - above and 
beyond what is already occurring. If this technology isn't made equally 
available to developing nations, where the vast bulk of over-reproduction 
occurs, then you set up just another tension point to those that already 
exist.  These over-reproducing developing nations, living longer lives 
due to the life extension tech made available would REALLY explode the 
population and the stress on natural resources and open spaces, and 
endangered species.  
  The only remedy to all this is if EVERYONE accepted very strict, 
worldwide birthcontrol regulations.  How likely is that?  The earth is a 
finite space with finite resources.  How do you support billions upon 
billions of extra mouths, extra consumers, extra environment degraders?  
You cannot.  Our economies couldn't handle it either.  Right now in the 
USA with our growing economy (producing predominantly low-paying jobs) 
still sees an unemployment rate of 5%.  Though economists see this number 
as the minimum desireable to support economic growth and job mobility, it 
would skyrocket if you suddenly added billions more to the human resource 
population.  What if grandpa can productively work for 20 years longer 
than is now possible?  What happens to the many young people just 
entering the job market?  There would be no room for them.  You either 
have to force people to quit working, even though they are still very 
capable, or you have to hold off hiring the young.  Either way some group 
has to then be supported.  
  Open areas and wilderness areas that support diverse other species are 
already under pressure from the growing population.  They wouldn't stand 
a chance if billions upon billions are suddenly added (hell, they 
wouldn't make it if the numbers are added gradually either).  Rivers are 
overdiverted, causing water shortages downstream.  Aquifers are being 
overtapped.  Where is the water to come from so as to safeguard the 
environment.  If you say, "the ocean with desalination plants" that is 
NOT an answer either - not in the long run.  Billions and billions of 
people...that is a lot of water to take from the ocean with the 
concomittent pile-up of vast salt extracts.  What do you do with that?  
You cannpt add it back to the oceans because at this scale you begin to 
increase the salinity of the ocean which would devestate the life within 
it.  Fisheries are overfished, and arable land is limited.  Where does 
the food come from?

Significant life extension is not tenable, at least not until (and IF) we 
begin to colonize space or other planets...how far off is THAT?  In such 
circumstances, billions of people with longer lifespans might not hurt 
and might even be a benefit.  Until then, the planet, its biosphere, its 
natural resources, and our societies and economies cannot handle the 
results of significant life extension. ( I would NEVER support it for 
only those who can afford and exhorbitant price for it either)

Unless there is another planet sitting around for us to expand onto, or 
unless everyone will accept strict population control methods, then it 
cannot work.  The problems are the same, to varying lessor extents if you 
are only considering minor life extensions.

Patrick





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