Is Objection to Radical Life Extension a Crime against Humanity?

Every year around the world something like 50 million men and women die from ‘old age’. Each one of these ‘natural deaths’ is accompanied by the heartbreak and tears of relatives and loved ones, a scene played out over 100,000 times day after day. And if the death is lonely and marked not by tears but only by the professional duties of nurses or coroners, the human tragedy is arguably even greater. Each death represents not only the dying of another light, the extinguishing of subjective hopes, wants, feelings, and pleasures, but the deletion of a lifetime of knowledge, experience, and memories, vanished from the universe even more completely than the corpse that will turn to dust. If a library containing 100,000 unique and irreplaceable books was being burnt to the ground every single day we would be outraged, yet the extinguishing of countless thousands of unique individual selves that were forged through the joys and pains of decades of subjective experiences is seen as ‘natural’. It is, in fact, nothing less than a biological holocaust.

When technology might exist that can prevent a death, but is not used, that death is not ‘natural’. If a doctor decided to arbitarily switch off a patient’s life support machine, that doctor would be guilty not simply of professional misconduct, but of murder. If I marched into the critical care ward of a hospital and started brutally pulling off drips from the arms of patients, tearing away oxygen masks and the like, whilst screaming that artificially extending a person’s life was ‘unnatural’, my only legal defence against a conviction for murder or attempted murder might be that I was clinically insane. Yet opponents of radical life extension appear to use the ‘death is natural’ objection almost as a form of personal virtue signalling, even if the apparently desired consequence of their argument – that research into curing aging, and funding for that research, be treated as unimportant or even banned – would result in billions of human deaths that might have been avoided by life extension technology.

Europe now has strict ‘hate speech’ laws that leave many of us looking over our shoulder every time we go on Twitter or express a view on immigration or the like on any social media. The ostensible well meaning intention of these laws is to avoid another stain upon humanity that was the Jewish holocaust. The obvious chilling effect upon free speech that results from them is considered justified by that noble goal. Yet any causal relationship between racist or ‘Islamophobic’ tweets and future racial or religious genocides is highly speculative and hypothetical. Incitement to murder or to violence against individuals or groups was already illegal. What’s changed by these hate speech laws it that merely offensive or insulting words on the subject of race or even religion are now potentially criminal. On the other hand, firm objections to longevity research have a clear and explicit aim, and an equally clear consequence if others are persuaded or influenced by them – the future avoidable deaths of billions.

Given enough research into curing aging, technology will eventually radically extend lifespans. Even the most strident sceptics of near term life extension cannot deny this. Considering the numbers of deaths from ‘natural’ age related diseases quoted at the beginning of this article, each day we delay in solving the aging problem and reaching ‘longevity escape velocity’ will result in the ending of tens of thousands of lives that may otherwise enjoy decades or even centuries of further life. If the date that aging can effectively be brought under control is postponed by just a decade through lack of funding, it would result in well over half a billion deaths that could have been prevented. This number is around 100 times greater than the Jewish holocaust, and dwarfs any genocide or holocaust in history, or any ‘natural’ cataclysm. The number of preventable deaths is comparable to what we might expect from a global nuclear holocaust. And this only from one decade of delaying the ending of aging!

One might object that these numbers are misleading because, for example, the victims of the Jewish holocaust were as likely (or more likely) to be young and healthy, full of future hopes and incompleted lives, than be old and sick, whereas the ‘victims’ of the preventable biological holocaust are solely the old and suffering. But, of course, we are not talking about extending old and suffering lives, but rejuvenating and restoring the old to a younger, healthier state. So, rather than misleading, these numbers are even more horrific. For not only does the biological holocaust dwarf any in history in terms of sheer numbers of lives lost, if you consider that these lives could be extended in a healthy state for decades or centuries, then the amount of ‘lost life’ is almost beyond belief. If we say that a Jewish victim of the holocaust may have expected to live for 30 more years (on average) that would equate to 30 x 6 million = 180 million years of lost life. If we use the example of a decade of delayed longevity escape velocity and give a conservative estimate that a person who dies of age related deaths during that decade might have enjoyed 100 years of further life, then this equates to 100 x half a billion = 50 billion years of lost life.

When somebody makes an argument online that all mosques should be closed in order to prevent Islamic terrorism or to protect native culture, what he or she has said may be offensive, and closing mosques may be deeply discriminatory, but the supposition that such ‘hate speech’ could lead to another holocaust (this time against Muslims) and therefore ought to be (or is) illegal, is very hypothetical and tenuous and seems rather to be an example of reaching to justify a police thought controlled state. However, when somebody makes an argument online that death (from aging) is ‘natural’ and that we should not play God in trying to cure it, or that we can never justify funding research to end aging when millions are starving or living in poverty in Africa, the intention behind that speech (at least its outcome if it influences funding and research) is the preventable deaths of billions – a true biological holocaust, and a true crime against humanity.

Aubrey De Grey recently claimed that, given some assumptions on how much funding the necessary (SENS) research would need in order to cure aging, the cost of each life saved from death by aging works out at something like $1. Even a nobody on Facebook, making a trite objection to life extension research read only by a few dozen friends, might influence just one person enough to not make a small donation they might otherwise make at some point. Lets say an average donation is $20. That equals 20 lives lost. Of course, I’m stretching things here a little myself, and establishing a direct causal connection between somebody’s words online and resulting deaths down the line due to the longevity escape velocity being delayed by a fraction isn’t very plausible or scientific. However, it’s considerably more plausible and objective than claiming that even a ‘far right’ individual with thousands of Twitter followers could possibly be held responsible for any hypothetical deaths in a hypothetical genocide that his words might play a part in inspiring in an imaginary future. And yet we are arresting such individuals, and even when we don’t, we are reminded of the dangers that such speech can potentially lead to.

As somebody who believes in free speech, I’m not seriously suggesting that hate speech laws be extended to cover objections to longevity research. I oppose the very concept of hate speech laws and policing thoughts online. But I do think we need to make clear that words have consequences, and that the (usually left-wing) virtue signalers who make these cliched and knee-jerk objections online are actually promoting and aiding the preventable deaths of billions of the most vulnerable people in the world – the aged. A real biological holocaust inflicted by one generation upon another.

“Youth was the time for happiness, its only season; young people, leading a lazy, carefree life, partially occupied by scarcely absorbing studies, were able to devote themselves unlimitedly to the liberated exultation of their bodies. They could play, dance, love, and multiply their pleasures. They could leave a party, in the early hours of the morning, in the company of sexual partners they had chosen, and contemplate the dreary line of employees going to work. They were the salt of the earth, and everything was given to them, everything was permitted for them, everything was possible. Later on, having started a family, having entered the adult world, they would be introduced to worry, work, responsibility, and the difficulties of existence; they would have to pay taxes, submit themselves to administrative formalities while ceaselessly bearing witness–powerless and shame-filled–to the irreversible degradation of their own bodies, which would be slow at first, then increasingly rapid; above all, they would have to look after children, mortal enemies, in their own homes, they would have to pamper them, feed them, worry about their illnesses, provide the means for their education and their pleasure, and unlike in the world of animals, this would last not just for a season, they would remain slaves of their offspring always, the time of joy was well and truly over for them, they would have to continue to suffer until the end, in pain and with increasing health problems, until they were no longer good for anything and were definitively thrown into the rubbish heap, cumbersome and useless. In return, their children would not be at all grateful, on the contrary their efforts, however strenuous, would never be considered enough, they would, until the bitter end, be considered guilty because of the simple fact of being parents. From this sad life, marked by shame, all joy would be pitilessly banished. When they wanted to draw near to young people’s bodies, they would be chased away, rejected, ridiculed, insulted, and, more and more often nowadays, imprisoned. The physical bodies of young people, the only desirable possession the world has ever produced, were reserved for the exclusive use of the young, and the fate of the old was to work and to suffer. This was the true meaning of solidarity between generations; it was a pure and simple holocaust of each generation in favor of the one that replaced it, a cruel, prolonged holocaust that brought with it no consolation, no comfort, nor any material or emotional compensation.”

― Michel Houellebecq, The Possibility of an Island