The old saying, ‘live life to the fullest’ simply implies that one should get the most out of every day they are alive. So many factors alter what is classified as a typical life span and that has drastically changed the average over the decades. But what factors have aided or hindered in these human life expectancy changes? Is the potential risk worth the outcome? Who is responsible for making this decision? There are both controllable and uncontrollable factors that affect an individual’s life span; however, there is a point where it changes from a preventative measure to an unethical practice.
It is important to consider, in today’s day and age, what is classified as an average life span. The average age in today’s times is considered to be 78.1. A decade prior the average life expectancy was 70 years of age. (Life Expectancy Table) In just a short period of time, the life expectancy has decrease almost ten years. It is essential to consider the potential factors that weigh on that average. Is the advance in medical practice aiding or are extreme preventative measures altering the natural life expectancy in a ‘playing God’ type of manner?
There are many factors that can drastically change that average life span. Unfortunately, one has to consider the uncontrollable health issues that can alter ones expectancy. For example purposes consider cancer, stroke, and heart attacks. “Conceivably, as major disease entities are brought under greater medical control, the life expectancy figures will demonstrate a further small incremental rise.” (Kogan, Tucker, & Porter 2011) There are also health related factors that are viewed as self-inflicted such as drinking, smoking, obesity and other similar diseases. These more controllable health related issues, if ignored can take years off of an individual’s normal life span. Alternative measures have been established to help alter the effects of some of these self-inflicted ailments. ” Calorie restricted diets, or pharmaceuticals that can mimic the well described, life-extending effects of caloric restrictions.” (Ingram et al. 2004) Such preventative measures have been established to help aid in the overall human health and well-being. They are used in cases where individuals cannot manage to get their weight under control on their own. This is just one example of preventative medicine that is on the market today Other measures include routine doctor visits, preventative exams, diet, exercise, and overall moderation.
As science has advanced, new methods have been established for prolonging ones life span. This variation shows from country to country with their overall life expectancy. “If the expectation of life in developed countries were approaching an imminent maximum, then the pace of improvement in mortality in the countries with the highest life expectancies would be slower than the pace in countries with shorter life expectancies.” (Oeppen & Vaupel 2002) This can include such measures as routine vaccinations and regular exams that some less developed countries are still not privy to. An average life span can be altered by infant and youth mortality, not just those who have lived their ‘full-life’. That is reflected in the lower life span averages is third world countries. Preventative measures that are necessary throughout life are not readily accessible to some affecting the life average in that area.
There are many intervening processes that are currently in practice that attempt to alter the natural life expectancy. These processes include, “manipulating genes that play a role in longevity; altering telomere length in cell nuclei; antioxidant therapies; and generation of replacement organs using stem cells. Given the extensions of longevity seen in laboratory species, optimists argue that we may be only decades away from substantially extending human life’s pans beyond the currently observed maximum of approximately 120 years.” (Partridge, Bartlett, Underwood, Lucke, & Hall 2009). Manipulation of aging genes is the process that mutates the genes that instruct the protein components of lgf1 and insulin signaling conduits have proved to affect life span. This practice is used to inhibit the aging process. Another controversial practice is altering telomere length in cell nuclei. This process consists of specific repetitive DNA sequence that shortens as the human body ages. Preventing this shortening, in theory, is expected to extend a life span. And finally, generation of replacement organs using stem cells. This is the manipulation of a patient’s stem cell by using scaffold material to emit biochemical signals to alter cells into action. This process is still under development and is still high controversial. All of these examples are procedures used to extend the human life span significantly.
There is a certain amount of debate to the ethical practice of manipulation of aging genes, altering telomere length in cell nuclei, and generation of replacement organs using stem cells. “The belief that old-age mortality is intractable remains deeply held by many people. Because of its implications for social, health, and research policy, the belief is pernicious. Because the belief is so prevalent, forecasts of the growth of the elderly population are too low, expenditures on life-saving health-care for the elderly are too low, and expenditures for biomedical research on the deadly illnesses of old age are too low.” (Carnes & Olshansky 2007) The controversy lies on many factors such as altering natural life, societal standards, potential side effects, and the overall cost associated with such life altering measures.
An argument associated with life expectancy extensions is the potential for negative effects. These processes have not been perfected or even studied enough to show a responsible return for the risk. “Participants expressed a reluctance to personally extend their lifespan if their quality of life was compromised and there were also some concerns expressed about the broader social implications of life-extension—such as overpopulation and the financial costs of supporting larger numbers of older adults. A minority of participants opposed life-extension in-principle, saying ‘I don’t think you should dally with nature’.” (Partridge, Bartlett, Underwood, Lucke, & Hall 2009) For example, why extend ones life if you know that the immune system will be greatly altered or compromised. Or if you know that their memory will be compromised to some extent. They will be alive for more years, but in a miserable state. That is not a favorable alternative to living the seventy-years of unaltered natural, assumable healthy life.
These are just a few of the types of interventions that are controversial due to the simple question of ethics. Objections have arisen based on the premise of utilitarian and consequentiality approaches; a justice-based and equalitarian-based perspective; as well as natural law and divine law. When a human being alters the natural law of life, it is perceived they are ‘playing God’. There has never been a favorable response to such practices. Justice-based arguments are simple as well, how can one choose to live another ten, twenty, or even thirty years if they are in a miserable state? Yes that is more time to spend with the ones we love, however the quality may potentially ruin that additional time. Other considerations include cost and benefits of the extended longevity; human safety of the trials; equality of access; and altering the human aging process.
How many years will this prolong an individuals life. Once these processes are perfected, the average life span is expected to reach 120 years of age. But who is funding such research and projects?
The government has a limited role in monitoring and sponsoring the treatment of extending human life. “The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not even approve trials of compounds whose sole purpose is life-extension.” (Gallagher 2011) The pros have not been proven to out weigh the cons and the testing is not governmentally supported. This limits the amount as well as the validity of testing these alternatives for life extensions. The price tag involved in prolonging and extending the human life expectancy is hefty as well. With out governmental approval and potential funding, it makes the cost of such testing too high to pursue. It also limits the realms of such potential testing which can mask the end outcomes.
There are both controllable and uncontrollable factors that affect an individual’s life span; however, there is a point where it changes from a preventative measure to an unethical practice. For many it is a personal choice as to weather it is not only favorable, but also ethical to pursue life extending procedures. There are many preventative efforts that can aid in a full, long, life that are not questionable or ethical. Taking personal care of what can be controlled and utilizing medical resources available for preventions is a great start to naturally maximizing ones life span without any type of ethical debate.
Carnes, Bruce A.& S. Jay Olshansky. (2007). A Realist View of Aging, Mortality, and Future Longevity. Population and Development Review, Vol. 33, 367-381.
Gallagher, Peter W. (2011). The New Future of Old Age. Policy, Vol. 27, 2.
Life Expectancy Table. Retrieved from: http://www.efmoody.com/estate/lifeexpectancy.html
Kogan, Nathan; Jennifer Tucker; & Matthew Porter. (2011) Extending the Human Life Span: An Exploratory Study of Pro and Anti-Longevity Attitudes. Int’l. J.Aging and Human Development, Vol. 73, 1-25.
Oeppen, Jim & James W. Vaupel. (2002). Broken Limits to Life Expectancy. Science Compass, Vol. 296, 1029-1031.
Partridge, Brad; Wayne Hall; Jayne Lucke; Mair Underwood; & Helen Bartlett. (2009). Mapping Community Concerns About Radical Extensions of Human Life Expectancy. The American Journal of Bioethics,9(12), W4-W5.
Partridge, Brad; Helen Bartlett; Mair Underwood; Jayne Lucke; & Wayne Hall. (2009). Ethical Concerns in the Community About Technologies to Extend Human Life Span. The American Journal of Bioethics, 9, 68-76.