Lifespans Are Long Enough

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What if we didn’t have to grow old and die? The average American can expect to live for 78.8 years, an improvement over the days before clean water and vaccines, when life expectancy was closer to 50, but still not long enough for most of us. So researchers around the world have been working on arresting the process of aging through biotechnology and finding cures to diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer. What are the ethical and social consequences of radically increasing lifespans? Should we accept a “natural” end, or should we find a cure to aging?

  • IanGround 90px


    Ian Ground

    Philosopher & Lecturer, University of Newcastle

  • PaulRootWolpe 90px


    Paul Root Wolpe

    Director, Emory Center for Ethics

  • Aubrey-de-Grey 90px 2


    Aubrey de Grey

    Chief Science Officer & Co-Founder, SENS Research Foundation

  • BrianKennedy


    Brian Kennedy

    CEO & President, Buck Institute for Research on Aging

    • Moderator Image


      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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For The Motion

Ian Ground

Philosopher & Lecturer, University of Newcastle

Ian Ground, PhD, has taught philosophy in a range of roles, including senior lecturer in philosophy, at the universities of Newcastle, Sunderland, Durham and Edinburgh. A specialist in making philosophical ideas accessible to the wider public, and in enabling people to think critically about current ideas and trends, he has been an innovator in the sectors of adult education and lifelong learning. Ground has won awards for Teaching Innovation and the UK’s National Award in Lifelong Learning. He has published in the philosophy of mind, especially our understanding of animal minds, in the philosophy of art, and on the thought and life of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. His books include Art or Bunk?, Can We Understand Animal Minds?, and Portraits of Wittgenstein, a comprehensive collection of memoirs. He is currently a member of the executive committee of the British Wittgenstein Society and teaches in the Department of Fine Art at Newcastle University.

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For The Motion

Paul Root Wolpe

Director, Emory Center for Ethics

Paul Root Wolpe, PhD, is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics, the Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics, a professor in the departments of medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, and sociology, and the director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University. He also serves as the first senior bioethicist for NASA. A futurist interested in social dynamics, Wolpe’s work focuses on the impact of technology on the human condition. He is considered one of the founders of the field of neuroethics, and his teaching and publications range across multiple fields of bioethics and sociology, including death and dying. The co-editor of the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB), Wolpe sits on the editorial boards of over a dozen journals on medicine and ethics. Previously at UPenn for 20 years, he has served as president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities and is a fellow of the Hastings Center.

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Against The Motion

Aubrey de Grey

Chief Science Officer & Co-Founder, SENS Research Foundation

Aubrey de Grey, PhD, a biomedical gerontologist, is the chief science officer of SENS Research Foundation, a charity dedicated to combating the aging process. He is editor-in-chief of Rejuvenation Research, the world’s highest-impact peer-reviewed journal focused on intervention in aging. His research interests encompass the characterization of all the accumulating and eventually pathogenic side-effects of metabolism (“damage”) that constitute mammalian aging and the design of interventions to repair and/or obviate that damage. He has developed a possibly comprehensive plan, termed Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), which breaks aging down into seven major classes of damage and identifies detailed approaches to addressing each one. A key aspect of SENS is that it can potentially extend healthy lifespan without limit. de Grey, a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and the American Aging Association, sits on the editorial and scientific advisory boards of numerous journals and organizations.

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Against The Motion

Brian Kennedy

CEO & President, Buck Institute for Research on Aging

Brian K. Kennedy, PhD, is the CEO and president of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. His innovative work in the biology of aging began as a doctoral student at MIT, where he took part in groundbreaking studies under the guidance of Leonard Guarente, PhD. Currently, he studies the pathways that modulate longevity in life forms ranging from yeast to mice, particularly the rapamycin (TOR) pathway. One of his lab’s goals is to determine whether such pathways can be regulated to treat the diseases of aging. Previously, he was in the biochemistry department at the University of Washington in Seattle. Since 2006, he has served on the National Institutes of Health Cellular Mechanisms of Aging and Development study section and on the grant review committee for American Federation for Aging Research Grants. He has published more than 60 manuscripts in journals, including Cell, Nature, and Science, is an associate editor for the Journal of Gerontology, and consults for biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

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Declared Winner: Against The Motion

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Voting Breakdown:

56% voted the same way in both pre - and post-debate votes(22% voted FOR Twice, 29% voted AGAINST Twice, 5% voted UNDECIDED Twice). 44% changed their minds (5% voted AGAINST then changed to FOR, 13% voted UNDECIDED then changed to FOR, 6% voted FOR then changed to AGAINST, 15% voted UNDECIDED then changed to AGAINST, 4% voted FOR then changed to UNDECIDED, 1% voted AGAINST then changed to UNDECIDED)| Breakdown Graphic

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    • Comment Link Cassidy McDonald-Ryan Wednesday, 11 May 2016 18:52 posted by Cassidy McDonald-Ryan

      The premise for this debate was poorly worded and resulted in the debate teams each trying to answer a very different question; the FOR team was basically asking "do humans have the right to have endless lifespans?" while the AGAINST team was asking "do humans have the right do be healthy as long as possible, even if this results in longer lifespans?"

      It is hard to vote for a winner because they weren't actually talking about the same thing.

      There should have been more discussion about increased lifespan and the possibility of overpopulation and natural resource depletion.
      "Most evidence shows that people who expect to live longer have far fewer children - even below the replacement rate." Will that still be true if women don't reach menopause until 80 years old? These types of questions were totally ignored.

    • Comment Link Bryce G. Wednesday, 11 May 2016 11:51 posted by Bryce G.

      The question of longer life is important. I believe that we should be able to live longer. Granted this debate was muddled between healthspan and lifespan, but aren't they one in the same? I mean if you are healthier for a longer period of time, then that should correlate with a longer life. If you don't take good care of yourself, then you are more likely to develop numerous problems, one of which is cancer. That is very serious and can deeply impact how much longer you have to live. However if you take good care of yourself, like exercising regularly and having a healthy balanced diet then you will be much better off especially if you have done this throughout your life. However this isn't foolproof, you are still at risk of devolping problems later in life, but it would greatly reduce the risk. I like what Brian Kennedy said: "19% of our GDP is spent on healthcare". If we take the time to be healthier individuals, we will less likely end up in the hospital, and thus reduce the amount of taxpayer money and in turn live a longer life. What Im trying to say is that if we take care of ourselves, we won't end in the hospital or doctor's office as much which will lead to less of an economic burden. Of course there is another point about being able to spend more time with your grandchildren which is always nice, you can't really go wrong there.

    • Comment Link Manwar Friday, 06 May 2016 13:47 posted by Manwar

      We could take advantage of living longer by doing the wrong things when we are young. For example, we might live a crazier lifestyle if we know that eventually our life will be longer, people might use drugs, consume unhealthier food and more. People will be careless in how they live but if we don’t know what the future hold for us, we would do anything in our life carefully. A lot of us already doing these idiotic things that affect our health and destroying our body, and knowing we can make our life longer it would only create more chaos.
      Some might say they want to live longer. But trying to reach immortality is going to make us suffer in terms of health. The hope we want if we live longer in the same time healthier, which is kind of hard. Even though if we were healthier, we would suffer mentally. If someone has a disease and you know you are going to live longer, just only imagine the minutes or the seconds that you are going through from pain and sickness while you know that your life is not going to end anytime soon, you would wish you can die immediately or maybe kill yourself. Even if you are healthy through your life, you would feel that you don’t belong on that time and if you are not wealthy you won’t enjoy your time by any chance.

    • Comment Link Allister Thursday, 05 May 2016 23:49 posted by Allister

      I really did not like how the “against” side effectively avoided the actual topic on hand. Wolpe was really the only person actually arguing a point that was relevant to the actual debate of LIFESPAN, not healthspan. Also, there is a major flaw in Brian Kennedy’s argument of the “Silver Tsunami” occurring in Japan due their large percentage of population over the age of 65 and that people living longer healthspans will be able to be more productive and contribute back to society. Japan is consistently ranked in the top ten healthiest countries in the world and was ranked number 5 in 2015. So then why is it that a healthy country with 25% of its population 65 and over is seeing its economy slow down instead of rapidly growing? Because the fact of the matter is that even if you are healthy at an old age, you are still old and cannot effectively contribute back to the workforce short of a menial labor instead of enjoying all of those extra years. I really wished the ‘For’ side would have discussed the economic ramifications of a country trying to provide for a population living to 150+.

    • Comment Link Lynzee Sunday, 01 May 2016 18:03 posted by Lynzee

      Who wouldn't want to watch their grandkids and children live a long life? Who wouldn't want to watch them experience weddings and birthdays and more children? To live a longer life is one thing, but if you can live longer and be healthier at the same time, what's to lose?? If you had the choice to die young and sick, or old and healthy what would you choose? I would want to die old and healthy. Aging is a process that occurs all around us. Losing loved ones to all sorts of cancers and health related problems is heartbreaking. Evolution is when a population can adapt their surroundings and change over time. In the times we are in today, we have the research and technology to adapt and beat cancers and illnesses related to aging. Over time technology will advance and diseases will be easier to cure and prevent. Life is a beautiful gift and if you have an opportunity to extend it then whats to lose? Having a longer life will also give you more time to experience anything you've wanted too. Learn a new language, a musical instrument, take those dance classes you've always wanted too. Travel more and meet new people. There are parts of life that you can't get back. People are scared to do stuff, and then by the time they realize it, its too late and they are sick or about to die. I would rather have a life full of oh wells, than what if's. What about you??

    • Comment Link erik Tuesday, 29 March 2016 22:35 posted by erik

      Most evidence shows that people who expect to live longer have far fewer children - even below the replacement rate. They also invest more in self-education and make longer-term decisions about their community and shared resources. Global improvements in longevity could be the solution for a better planet.

    • Comment Link Kathryn Monday, 14 March 2016 16:53 posted by Kathryn

      How does the matter of gender equality not come into this debate? If sing itself is stopped, or the deterioration of the human body, then women would have more freedom to space childbearing, if only by freezing their eggs. We may have women at advanced she's beating children this way, but these are healthy women. This is a minimum impact of increasing healthy lifespan.
      The other forms of counteracting aging would do even more. But the bottom line is the choice that women face today: how long do I have to bear healthy children? There is some evidence that men have increasing chances of some adverse outcomes in their offspring with advancing age, but ultimately, a man in his nineties can still have children.
      If a woman was able to pursue education, career, or other " long-term" goals, find a suitable mate if she wants, and still be able to bear healthy children and raise them to adulthood, then the reality of being a woman would be transformed, as it has been incrementally so up to this point with contraception, suffrage, and marriage equality.
      I imagine that having that choice would not mean all women took advantage of it, any more than the availability of immortality means everyone must be immortal. It could mean women may have more children, or, because they know they will be there to see their children and themselves deal with scarcity, have fewer. They may choose to put off childbearing until they are in the best conceivable financial position to do so. I think of the women in the areas hit by the Zika virus, and realize that some women may, in waiting for the epidemic to end, be giving up any chance at having children.

    • Comment Link Peter Vogel Thursday, 10 March 2016 21:41 posted by Peter Vogel

      A fascinating debate, and I wish they had more time for it.

      It should surprise no one, however, that the proponents of the measure lost handily. We can discuss "how long a life is too long, what will it do to our society" in the abstract all we want, but when it comes down to it, there is no way a free society can tell individual citizens how long they are "allowed" to live. Short of some sort of intrusive, draconian worldwide ban on such research (which would necessarily intrude on a wide range of efforts in "acceptable" medical research on degenerative age-related conditions) someone somewhere will eventually master the problem of aging, and put it into practice. And once it becomes available, the demand will make whatever country hosting such anti-aging clinics instantly rich. How would we prevent such an eventuality? Go to war with the nations where it is made legal? Arrest those who had the treatment, for the unforgivable crime of wanting to live? It all seems very reasonable, until we realize what it means to individual rights.

      The problems suggested by the proponents may arise, to be sure. But these boogeymen are manageable without demanding the every human being must die in accordance with the state's approved guidelines. Overpopulation, for instance, is not an argument for letting people grow old and die, it's an argument for developing better birth control (which a society that has mastered aging could surely also achieve.) And perhaps there would need to be some measures to ensure turnover in certain job markets, to counterract the accumulation of wealth (not that we need increased longevity to see that need), and other compromises. But all these can be managed without this blind commitment that we all walk peacefully into the scythe.

    • Comment Link Crystal Sunday, 06 March 2016 20:06 posted by Crystal

      This would be DISASTER. Imagine what could become of it! People with access to this would have way too much power and control. It sounds like a terrible idea that could result in worldwide catastrophe.

    • Comment Link Arthur Toegemann Thursday, 25 February 2016 22:46 posted by Arthur Toegemann

      There is more to longevity than biology. There are psychological and philosophical perspectives that need to be developed.

      It may be that when indefinite longevity is fact and style, questioning it will be considered suicidal and needing therapy.

      Existentially, the reason for future extended longevity is the same reason we choose to live life at the present length.

    • Comment Link Tony Tuesday, 23 February 2016 09:19 posted by Tony

      The proponents did make some valid points but they are in the context of life and society as it is now. They seem to view the future in the current context.

      I have 3 comments.

      1. For those wishing for a currently normal lifespan. I wish you well and smile in the knowledge that those apposing extended lifespans won't be around to complain about it for too long.

      2. The idea that we will all just get bored is ridiculous. An extended lifespan will enable us to learn and do more things and have more adventures.

      3. If I could live for 200 years+ I would definitely live on the moon or Mars. As it stands now I will be too old to that with the current lifespan because the possibility to live on Mars is at least 20 years away. At 50+ now it looks like I and others like me will be denied that opportunity unless science comes to the rescue.

      I live in hope. "The longer you live, the more chance you have of living longer". Think about it!

    • Comment Link Max Hodges Thursday, 18 February 2016 17:15 posted by Max Hodges

      terrible debate. These guys barely scratch the surface of this topic

    • Comment Link Jason Monday, 15 February 2016 04:23 posted by Jason

      The issue to me is about choice in a free society if treatments exist to extend the health span then it should be available to everyone so that costs to medical system are reduced. Of course a person can opt out of this treatment and die of natural causes if that path is best for them. I did not hear that we are any where near this yet in the debate with one mention of an existing drug Metformin also Rapamycin neither being new tech inventions. It is not clear to me what new treatment is being tested in in what time line. Will certain makers of slowed decline be tested vs the long drawn out path to see who ends up living longer? I lot of the discussion was way premature assuming we are already at the point of extreme healthy life extension. Is it narcissistic to want to live forever? It is not an option more a fantasy at this point in time. I personally would like to have a long health span over lifespan with disease/degeneration and plan to experiment with treatments like Metformin and/or rapamycin,

      I want to do plenty of literature search of both positive and negative findings in research so that I am well informed. Information needs to be free and available to all,

      What would be the reimbursement scheme and ICD-10 code that is required in order to eventually make age related decline a disease with a specified treatment? Why not age related decline then be more specific as to the type in the ICD-10 code or whatever is the most recent.

    • Comment Link Damian Thursday, 11 February 2016 16:02 posted by Damian

      Bruce Kline says , " You get older and your brain does not scale like it did as a child, you reach a point where recall and thinking is not sharp or original."
      This medical condition is imminently treatable as well. Don't be so pessimistic.

    • Comment Link Jessica Wednesday, 10 February 2016 19:17 posted by Jessica

      BBC just ran a documentary on a British man with a degenerative illness who sought assisted suicide in Switzerland while he still had the choice. The film gave full range to all points of view and was very powerful.

    • Comment Link Bruce Kline Wednesday, 10 February 2016 02:04 posted by Bruce Kline

      For now we have evolved about as fully as possible.

      The only path to human evolution is now in our brains and memories, and the only way to accomplish that is to be able to either teach children faster and better, or allow wise old people to live longer.

      There are problems with both avenues. You get older and your brain does not scale like it did as a child, you reach a point where recall and thinking is not sharp or original. If you try to indoctrinate children ... who can say we are doing it right or fairly. We as a race have been great at indoctrinating war and racism into our children.

      I think we have to let this question go in favor of trying to find a technological way for an increasing population to exist on planet Earth while at the same time restoring nature and making life better for everything on the planet ... not just a handful of billionaire and corporations. ;-) (where have I heard that before)

    • Comment Link Brian Sunday, 07 February 2016 19:56 posted by Brian

      I'm glad that the majority of people are finally understanding that bringing aging under medical control is the right thing to do. I knew it was since I found out I guess I was just ahead of most people. Ian ground is a horribly ignorant person on this topic and his arguments are just silly.Paul Wolfe is just as bad even if people want to live longer for narcissistic reasons that is there decision not yours. Keep up the good work Aubrey and Brian I support you 100 percent.

    • Comment Link damian Friday, 05 February 2016 21:15 posted by damian

      No need to worry about Paul living forever. He won't. His words will have been as forgotten as he in the sands of time. All deathists who praise "nature's" or some other imaginary god's "will" (which of course is ever only a reflection of their own will) make their bed and lay in it. Just don't let them control the fate of the rest of us. I mean he is such a pompous a__. There, I said it. Yes there may be then, as there are now and always will be, devote procrastinationists who put off until forever what they could do today (apparently his biggest fear), worse, there may be hoarders stockpiling hoards to the sky,and yes, there will be people who don't prefer to be longshoremen for 150 years at a stretch or married to the same person for 2000 years, but, ARE THESE THE THINGS WHICH DEFINE OUR HUMANITY?
      Defined by the negative space? I think he means CONFINED, not defined. Koko the gorilla knows she is going to die. Does that make her human? I'm 58 years old and have never given one thought to planning out my life as he seems to regard so essential and necessary to be truly human. Does that make me inhuman? My in-determinant life is what he mocks, lifelong learning, a yearning to enjoy things and view things from many perspectives and to live long enough to do it. Not hunkering down into the tiniest cocoon I can make and peek out the smallest possible window (likely while hoping for post mortum immortality that wouldn't be enjoyed either)
      But wait, there's MORE!!! Yes, even more irksome is his attempt to equate the destruction of his precious deathist world view with Narcissism. Trying to hide his BS just as a magician uses distraction to misdirect his marks (in this case the debate watching audience). But obviously, who is the one that cares not one whit for the lives of billions thus at stake here? Who is insisting that all lives be just like his, not even given a choice whether to live the old way or the new?

    • Comment Link Humra Mahmood Friday, 05 February 2016 16:44 posted by Humra Mahmood

      I am 76 years old ,in good health for my age.I keep on telling my self I am so glad to be alive today,Advances in genetics having child with 3 parents with no malformations.Having patient specific treatments.Hubble telescope.. discovering new planets we are not a lonely planet,May be there is life elsewhere.I will love to see that.
      But to tell you the truth,I am feeling tired now I have nothing to offer to man kind,I will not mind if I go now.

    • Comment Link Suresh Rattan Friday, 05 February 2016 09:51 posted by Suresh Rattan

      We are or can be potentially immortal - well almost immortal, just one day short of it. I would like "the pill" to make me immortal, and then I would also like another pill to choose whether I want to wake up the next morning. So, I want to choose how long to live and when to die. Science cannot force me to live for ever, but I would like to have the option.

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