Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Longevity Genes Video (and some thoughts on Equality)

I came across this excellent video today and wanted to post it here as it provides an useful scientific background to the normative arguments I develop in my paper "Equality and the Duty to Retard Human Aging", published in the October issue of Bioethics.

Most egalitarians will not have the intuition that tackling aging is a requirement of equality. Why not? For starters, most egalitarians will assume that, because aging is universal, there is no inequality that warrants mitigating... end of story.

But this assumption is false. While it is true that everyone chronologically ages at the same rate (i.e. we each age 1 year every 12 months), there is a significant variation in the rate of biological aging. That is, the rate at which we experience the molecular and cellular decline that gives rise to morbidity and, ultimately, death.

So there is an inequality at stake here.

But, our egalitarian might retort, this inequality is trivial.

Again, this assumption is false. The stakes are very significant indeed. We are talking about an extra 20-30 years of health for some (rare) fortunate individuals. And what explains their exceptional health and longevity is not their exceptional lifestyles, but rather the fact that they have inherited longevity genes.

A third assumption that many egalitarians might have is that there is nothing we could do to alter the inequality that exists between those born with "longevity genes" and the average person. Again this is unfounded. Incredible advances are being made in the field of biogerontology. Advances that might make the goal of a century of disease-free life a reality for all humans. And I believe that is one of the most important aspirations we could have (given the fact that we live in an aging world).

So, there is (a) an inequality in the rate of biological aging, (b) this inequality involves significant health differentials (in the order of decades of healthy life), and (c) we might be able to mitigate this inequality by "levelling up", if we invest enough resources and talent in understanding the biology of aging.

I think that is the basis of a pretty solid case for supporting the aspiration to retard human aging. Getting to that conclusion requires a lot more work than simply appealing to some basic egalitarian intuitions. But that simply illustrates another important point- egalitarians ought to invest less of their energies fine tuning their egalitarian intuitions and more time and energy in understanding the empirical realities of the world (especially the human species).