Immortality beckons, says Ronald Bailey, science editor of Reason, an influential American libertarian magazine, and the partisans of mortality are powerless to stop it. Writing in the London Times, he predicts a 20 to 40-year extension of the average life span by 2050. And by the end of the century he predicts five-generation picnics with great-great-great grandmas playing tennis at the age of 150. He looks forward to "human bodies and minds enhanced by advanced drugs and other biotherapies; the conquest of most infectious and degenerative diseases; and genetic science that allows parents to ensure that their children will have stronger immune systems, more athletic bodies and cleverer brains. Even the possibility of human immortality beckons."
But there is a hitch: malign forces from the Dark Side are working to scupper Bailey’s dream. "An extraordinary coalition of left-wing and right-wing bio-conservatives is resisting the biotechnological progress that could make it a reality. Forget Osama bin Laden and the so-called clash of civilisations. The defining political conflict of the 21st century will literally be the battle over life and death," he writes.
What Bailey is referring to is scepticism on both right and left (if those tags are appropriate) not just about whether immortality is feasible, but even if it is desirable. Daniel Callahan, a leading US bioethicist, has declared, "there is no known social good coming from the conquest of death". And Dr Leon Kass, former head of the President’s Council on Bioethics, says, "the finitude of human life is a blessing for every human individual, whether he knows it or not".
In Bailey’s future, organs can be regenerated and "antisocial tendencies and crippling depression will all be managed by individual choice through biotech pharmaceuticals and even generic treatments". Fanciful as this vision may seem, it is being taken seriously and is even being described as a moral obligation in some circles. "The highest expression of human nature and dignity is to strive to overcome the limitations imposed on us by our genes, our evolution and our environment," writes Bailey.
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