Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Rejuvenation Research Paper

My paper "Sufficiency, Justice and the Pursuit of Health-Extension" is now available in the latest issue of the interdisciplinary journal Rejuvenation Research. My interest in aging research grew out of my more general interest in the issue of genetic justice. And the more I have learned about the rapid and exciting progress being made in the field of aging research the more thought and reflection I have been investing in the challenging ethical and social issues that arise. So this paper is one part of an ongoing (and expanding) research project that examines the moral imperative to retard human aging.

Rejuvenation Research is a journal that "covers all aspects of biology and biomedicine relevant to the combating, and ultimately the reversal, of age-related physiological and cognitive decline, in nonhuman species and eventually in humans". Here is a sample from my latest paper:

Should we, as a society, invest a greater amount of public funding into research projects that seek to better understand the aging process so that we can retard, and possibly even eliminate, aging? Let us call those who answer “Yes!” to this question those who support what we can call The Project. Of course those who count themselves as supporters of The Project will no doubt disagree with each other over many of the details of The Project. Such as its ultimate goal (e.g. compress morbidity or the elimination of senescence), how it can best be achieved, likely time-scales, etc. These finer details are all issues that I shall put to the side for the purposes of this paper. My primary concern is to critically examine the moral defensibility of one of the central assumptions which all proponents of The Project share. Namely that The Project is worthy of greater public attention and more public funding than it currently receives. To help make the case for this assumption more compelling I will refute what I take to be one the most formidable arguments against it. I call this argument The Justice Objection. By utilizing the tools of analytical political philosophy we can better understand what this objection is, and, most importantly, why it is mistaken.

....When levied as a justice-based argument against The Project, The Justice Objection invokes more general considerations about justice that are consistent with what is called the Sufficiency View. Let me expand on this account of justice before linking it to the ethics of health-extension.

Stated in its most general form, the Sufficiency View maintains the following:

Sufficiency View: What is morally important is for everyone to have enough.

This general statement of the Sufficiency View can be dissected further, so that two more concise theses are identified. These theses are what Paula Casal calls the “negative” thesis and the “positive” thesis. These two theses maintain:

Positive Thesis: Justice requires we ensure that everyone rises above a certain threshold of welfare or wellbeing.

Negative Thesis: Justice does not impose any distributive requirements beyond the positive thesis.

Those who invoke the Sufficiency View, in the context of debates about the opportunities for healthy living, invoke a distributive principle (i.e. sufficiency) that is inappropriate given the goods at stake. The principle of sufficiency may (arguably) be appropriate for the distribution of socio-economic goods (e.g. wealth and income) but not the good of health itself. For example, the positive thesis might appear defensible when the good in question is wealth and income. In a world consisting solely of millionaires and billionaires it would be unjust to expect the billionaires to pay higher taxes to supplement the expensive tastes of the millionaires. However, there is no such analogy in the context of health extension. No one ever reaches a level of health such that we ascribe no moral weight at all to further benefits to them. So demonstrating how The Justice Objection is premised on a mistaken application of the sufficiency principle is an important service as it will better permit the supporters of The Project to win over some of their critics.