The Ethics of Life Expectancy

The most common and obvious moral problem is already existing in human life expend “unequal death”. The figures speak for themselves: in a number of African countries south of the Sahara, life expectancy is less than 40 years. In rich and developed countries the average lifespan is 70-80 years. This inequality causes because of strictly medical realm. It is mainly the combination of AIDS with poverty that is responsible for this mortality. In sub Saharan Africa, no fewer than 60% off all people live on earth with HIV. Twelve million children have lost at least one parent and in Zimbabwe 20.1% of all adults are infected. This global inequality simply doesn’t present a problem for bioethics. These problems also between are the health of population and international justice. In a globalizing world, problem of ill health in undeveloped nations are related to how the developed and wealthy nations use their political, scientific power and financial. Another possible argument refers to the principle of distribution justice and is formulated along utilitarian lines by Harries, among others. The fact that we have no means to treat all patients is no argument to qualify it unjust to treat some of them: “if immorality or increased life expectancy is a good, it is doubtful ethics to deny palpable goods to some people because we can’t provide them for all”. Our efforts to prolong life, therefore, ought not to be separated from the more fundamental questions relating to integrity: given the problem of unequal death, can we morally afford to invest in research to extend life? Recently Lucke and Hall pleaded for more social research on public opinion about life extension. As a variation on their proposal, people suggest that it is relevant to know the opinions on life extension technology of all those people whose risk of dying before the age of 40 could be diminished by rather simply, low- technology means.

Life is always life with others, even when it is extended. However, seems to be how this relatedness to others is interpreted. A liberal anthropology distinguishes human beings as primarily individual, who relate to each other by contract and negotiations, motivated by self-interest. Moreover, the other person has an instrumental value and can appear as a competitor, enemy or even a friend. Also, the sum of all others, incorporated in the community, fulfils a merely instrumental value: the society is judged by the extent to which it facilitates its members to realize their individual life plan. In a liberal view, the good life is good life for me, defined and measured by myself. Autonomy and authenticity are central values. Arguments in favors of life extension are often based on the presuppositions of liberalism. In communitarian anthropology, human beings are viewed as social beings. Relations with others belong to the essentials of what it is to live a human life. As Aristotle said, a man is by his nature a political being, in the sense of belonging to a community. Human beings cannot live without meaningful relations with others. Goods that are essential for a good life, such as marriage, friendship are essentially goods that are bound to the social dimensions of life. The two anthropological views can be combined with respect to biological aging. In the still hypothetical situation that extending biological age becomes a medical technical option, it is primarily a matter of autonomy whether a subject wants to choose it. This freedom of choice fits with the liberal view. However, the communitarian view, stresses the importance of social network a as condition for a truly human life. Being with others as such is considered intrinsically valuable, not the fact that the other is useful for my purposes. This excludes the option that an extension of biological age is intrinsically valuable. It is valuable only if it also extends our life as communal beings. Living longer is valuable only if it results in living longer in meaningful relations. Quality of time outweighs quantity of time. The real ethical challenge for aging societies, therefore, should be how to improve the conditions for life as a life in community and how to stop aging as such.

The final argument about life extension is the meaning of life. The explicit aim is contrary to the wisdom of ages as contained in various religious and non- religious spiritual traditions. Although all tradition and society agree that life is worthy and should not be taken. There is always a notion that human beings miss the essence of life by focusing on the preservation of their self or ego. Traditions such as these converge in the observation that the more one’s self is decentered, the more one loses interest in self preservation or extension of the biological lifespan. Modesty and the ability to give priority to seeking self flourishing by seeking the flourishing of other people seem to be a sign both of happiness and of a meaningful life. Moreover, there is a secular parallel to the experience of the decentering of the self as related to the experience of life’s meaning. As we reflect on the relation between time and experience, for instance, there is an interesting and important paradox to be observed: the more life is experienced as meaningful, the less we are aware of time. The activities that give us the most satisfaction and happiness are those in which we are totally absorbed. Performing music, doing sports, reading good books, making love, writing texts are many examples of activities that demand all our attention. In those activities that constitute human happiness there seem to be no time and space, no subject and object. Human beings basically seek is meaningful experiences not to just live more time. These are found by decentering activities, through which the quality of life is expanded and the desire for self preservation and life extension vanishes.

We realize that these three arguments differ in cogency. The argument of justice is the strongest, because it has a common sense argumentative force that is recognized in most ethical theories. The second argument, regarding the social nature of human beings, derives its cogency from the willingness to critically consider and complete the presuppositions of one’s moral theory. The third argument, introducing the meaning of life, is the most controversial. It is strongest for those who adhere to one of those traditions but weakest for those who do not. If the three arguments are read in reverse order, we think that they can endorse one another, in the sense that those who search for a meaningful life in the decentering of the self will acknowledge the importance of the community and of global justice. Because we address this article to a wider audience, however, we prefer to begin with the argument of justice.

Is it possible, after what has been said so far, to argue that no individual should have the option for life extension if science progresses enough to offer it? We don’t think so. Life is an intrinsic good, and individuals who are ready to accept all ethical objections presented so far are not different from those who choose to live in luxury without feeling the moral obligation of justice. In this paper, however, we focus on the ethical problems of investing in research aimed at further life extension. People have to find their own position and possess the right of free choice. But it is also true that personal answers and choices can be enriched by being embedded in traditions of wisdom with regard to how to live a human live. It is this embedding that we intend to add to the discussion on life extending research. With regard to a better society, in a globalizing world as ours is, there is a moral challenge to expand our view of the common good to encompass good for all, worldwide. This expansion inevitably raises the urgent question of whether we can morally afford, as a question of moral integrity, to invest time and money in trying to extend our lives while sidelining the whole issue of unequal death. 

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The Ethics Of Life Expectancy. (2021, Apr 09). Retrieved June 21, 2021 , from

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