Notwithstanding claims to the contrary, there is at present no proven strategy for augmenting the maximum human lifespan. However, the present absence of life-extending technology is not a cause for lamentation for we are already in possession of a technology, in the form of cryonics, which safeguards against death prior to the advent of or access to the stated technology. Cryonics refers to the low temperature preservation of persons pronounced dead by medico-legal standards with the hope that they may be resuscitated and rejuvenated by future technology. The primary rationale for cryonics is that a person considered dead by the standards of present technology is not necessarily dead by the standards of future technology. Currently, an estimated 300 persons are cryopreserved worldwide, with thousands more signed up for the procedure which is increasingly proving an economically viable alternative to traditional forms of post-mortuary disposal.
The specter of an old, decrepit, emaciated man or woman who craves death but is unable to die is bound to be summoned in the mind of some at the mention of life extension. This viewpoint, termed the Tithonus fallacy (after a character in Greek mythology who was granted immortality by Zeus at the behest of his lover – the goddess Eos – who unfortunately forgot to ask for eternal youth as well) is an obstinate error in the public mind. Life extension is, categorically, not an extension of the period of decline but rather an extension of the period during which one is healthy and vibrant. Furthermore, the effects of life-extending technology will inevitably be impermanent and most likely take the form of periodic rejuvenation. As such, persons dissatisfied with an indefinite lifespan (for whatever reasons) may opt out of the life extension program if they have started or should never partake of it. It is therefore a question of choice for the mission of life extension is to render the healthspan (and by extension lifespan) of a person a matter of choice in so far as this is possible. Life extension is therefore not the signing of a contract of immortality – a condition which, even if attainable, eliminates the element of choice and acts against the mandate of life extension.
The desirability of life extension has often been challenged in the form of a small set of recurring arguments, namely that related to overpopulation, boredom, attenuation of scientific progress by means of the perpetuity of old scientists, and the exacerbation of an already dismal wealth disparity. An attempt at brevity precludes a thorough analysis of the value of the above and other ethical considerations. Nevertheless, it may be advanced that the fundamental moral principle underlying life extension is the right to life – which is accompanied by no clause on the duration of that life. A corollary of the right to life is the right to the highest quality of life one can afford. A necessary requirement of a quality life is health. As aforementioned, life extension represents the attempt at rendering a person’s healthspan a matter of choice. That said, it is inconceivable that a person’s desire for an indefinite healthspan challenges any moral proscription. Furthermore, it would be the trademark of sophistry to put forward that life extension will introduce no problems. If such was the case, it would be an unprecedented technology and a miracle, for any great technology – on account of its novelty – always introduces a temporary disequilibrium in social organization and tends to breed its own issues. Whatever the problems issuing from life extension, they are incomparable to life extension as a moral imperative and not beyond amelioration.
A much anticipated milestone in life-extending technology is what Aubrey de Grey terms the Methuselarity. He defines it as “the point in our progress against aging at which our rational expectation of the age to which we can expect to live without age-related physiological and cognitive decline goes from the low three digits to infinite”. A related concept termed the Longevity Escape Velocity (also christened by de Grey) refers to the rate of improvement of the comprehensiveness of life-extending technology that will permit the reversal of the effects of aging faster than they are accumulating. Cryonicist and life extensionist Ben Best estimates that under the conditions of the Methuselarity (absence of death by aging), the average human lifespan is about 1,200 years, with a one in a billion chance of a maximum lifespan of approximately 23,000 years!
“The Earth is the cradle of humanity but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.” These words, spoken by visionary scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in the context of space colonization, are nevertheless pertinent to the general future of mankind. We can no longer approach the future with the timidity of the cradled mind. We must confront it with courage and tenacity. We are destined to evolve in unimaginable ways. Life extension is only the beginning!