Thursday, July 29, 2010

PAQ Paper Now Published

My paper entitled ""Mind the Gap": Beneficence and Senescence" is now published in the latest issue of Public Affairs Quarterly.

This paper is my latest effort to help establish the case for viewing age retardation as a pressing moral imperative.

A sample from the paper:

To help narrow the gap (hence the title “Mind the Gap”) between science policy and philosophical debates in ethics and distributive justice, I invoke a foundational principle of ethics- beneficence- and apply this principle to the topic of senescence (or biological aging). I address some of the ethical and social issues that arise in the field of biogerontology which studies the complex biological processes of aging in the hopes of extending the human healthspan. Well-ordered science, argue Flory and Kitcher, must inevitably be selective. However, the current “disease-model” approach to health extension, which is the strategy of tackling each specific disease of aging one at a time, is unsatisfactorily selective because it neglects the reality that “age is by far the biggest risk factor for a wide range of clinical conditions that are prevalent today”. Many different kinds of cellular and molecular damage contribute to aging, such as DNA damage (like telomere shortening and chromosome rearrangements), protein damage, oxidation and cell migration and cell death. However, unlike specific diseases of aging, like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, aging research currently receives very little public funding.

.... The principle of beneficence is a foundational principle of ethics. In its simplest form, the principle states that we ought to perform those actions which, from the menu of options available to us, will create the best outcomes. Beneficence underpins many of the other-regarding actions we take to be integral to morality and justice- such as performing acts of mercy, altruism and charity. When applied to science and medical research, the principle of beneficence requires society to pursue the knowledge and innovation necessary to prevent avoidable harms. These harms include pain and suffering, disability, disease and death.

.... Unlike the topics of multiculturalism, or the primacy of individual rights, or the distribution of wealth and income, science policy receives little attention from moral and political philosophers. This is unfortunate as many of the most pressing challenges facing societies this century are complex, long-term problems that require new scientific knowledge and innovation. The amount of support and funding which a government devotes to different areas of scientific inquiry can have a profound impact on the health and economic prospects of a society. In their recent study on the economic benefits of health and longevity in the United States, Murphy and Topel estimate that the gains in health and longevity made in the last thirty years of the twentieth century added approximately $3.2 trillion per year to national wealth, equal to about half of GDP. Making further health gains will be a challenge given the reality of co-morbidity. Age retardation offers a novel and plausible strategy for making substantial gains against the chronic diseases of aging. And with unprecedented numbers of humans living longer this century, the imperative to protect them from late-life morbidity and mortality becomes even more pressing.