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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2004

Arthur Caplan, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Biography

Currently, the Emmanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics, Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and the Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Prior to coming to Penn in 1994, Caplan taught at the University of Minnesota, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia University. He was the Associate Director of the Hastings Center from 1984-1987. Born in Boston, Caplan did his undergraduate work at Brandeis University, and did his graduate work at Columbia University where he received a Ph.D in the history and philosophy of science in 1979. Caplan is the author or editor of twenty-five books and over 500 papers in refereed journals of medicine, science, philosophy, bioethics and health policy. He writes a regular column on bioethics for MSNBC.com. He is a frequent guest and commentator in various media outlets. He has served on a number of national and international committees including as the Chair of the Advisory Committee to the United Nations on Human Cloning, the Chair of the Advisory Committee to the Department of Health and Human Services on Blood Safety and Availability, a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses, the special advisory committee to the International Olympic Committee on genetics and gene therapy, the American Chemistry Council and the special advisory panel to the National Institutes of Mental Health on human experimentation on vulnerable subjects. He is a member of Dupont’s biotechnology advisory panel, and the board of directors of the Keystone Center and has consulted with many corporations and consumer organizations.

Abstract

Is there anything immoral about wanting to live forever?

Most people when asked say they would like to live longer. If not forever, then at least a lot longer than they currently expect to live. Not everyone thinks it is a good idea to live longer lives. Some writers, perhaps, most notably the bioethicist Daniel Callahan argue that the quest to extend life is not a self-evident good. A longer life, Callahan contends, is not necessarily a better life. A nation of much longer lived citizens would wind up unfairly burdening the young. Other writers, such as the philosopher/physician Leon Kass, the political theorist Francis Fukuyama, and the theologian Gilbert Meilander argue that the extension of life should not be pursued because lengthening life is not consistent with human nature. It is 'unnatural' to extend human lives beyond the proverbial three score and ten that the demographers assure us is what the average citizen of an economically developed nation can expect. Still scientists are eagerly pursuing research in many species that might lead to life extension in human beings. We do not know enough about aging to know if any of these interventions can deliver a longer life much less immortality. But, should this research be stopped? Are the scientists, physicians and others working on techniques that might lead to significantly longer life spans for human beings engaged, as Callahan, Kass, Fukuyama and others argue, in unethical activities? As this presentation will show, I do not think a persuasive case against life extension has been made. Indeed, I maintain that research on slowing and even 'curing' aging should have greater priority in research budgets than it now does.

Presentation (PPT)