Before 1995 biomedical research on aging mainly came down to description of specific age-associated diseases. The last twenty years biomedical gerontology has started to aim at explanation of underlying processes of senescence and at interventions and technology to influence those processes. Important were the experiments with yeast, fruit flies, roundworms and mice, which demonstrated that by manipulating genes scientists were able to extend the life span of these living organisms dramatically. Not just by a small percentage but up to six-fold increases of life span. This led to hopes that the same would become possible for the life expectancy of human beings. Life extension changed from a product sold by dangerous and ridiculous quacks into a serious matter for ‘life scientists’ investigating e.g. genomes, stem cells and caloric restriction. However, this development not only led to hopes but also to fears. In this talk a humanist ethical evaluation of substantial life extension will be offered, focusing on “naturalness”, well-being and justice.
Peter Derkx is professor of Humanism and Worldviews at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, the Netherlands. His research interests include humanist traditions, meaning in life and aging well. He is a fellow of the Institute for Humanist Studies, Washington, DC. Recent publications are “The Future of Humanism” in Andrew Copson & A.C. Grayling (eds.) The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism, Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2015: 426-439, and “A Humanist Evaluation of Substantial Life Extension through Biomedical Research and Technology” in: Anthony B. Pinn (ed.) Humanism and Technology, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming.