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Aardvark Daily

New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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The curse of immortality

4 November 2019

I'm starting this week with a thought experiment that has significant ethical and moral implications.

Imagine for a moment if we discovered the ability to prevent aging and the effects of disease on the human body.

Imagine if we found away to ensure immortality.

Such a possibility is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Researchers have already identified many of the mechanisms involved in aging and who knows, maybe one day they'll just use technology like CRSPR gene editing to effectively switch-off those aging genes.

How would we, as a species, handle the advent of such technology and the prospect of immortality?

Just imagine the implications

Firstly, if nobody dies then we can't afford to have children because the planet is only capable of sustaining so much human life.

Without procreation, evolution would stop in its tracks and, as a species, we'd no longer be able to adapt to our environment.

Of course you'd have to ask... does evolution an outdated concept, now that we have developed the technology to adapt our environment to suit our needs rather than vice-versa?

If this immortality came at a price, such that only those of affluence could afford it, might this not amount to a form of eugenics based on one's ability to pay? Is that morally or ethically acceptable?

I expect that it would soon become acceptable, given that experience has shown that those with the money usually make the rules.

Might we end up with a two-class society -- those who can afford to be immortal and those who are "expendable" and thus provide a continuously renewed (by way of death and births), workforce to serve the immortal?

However, what if immortality was available to everyone... what would we do then?

Would we be able to successfully enforce a no-breeding policy so as to avoid overloading the planet and its ability to support human life?

Might people be forced to choose between their own immortality and the right to have children? ie: only those who foresake immortality would be entitled to breed and even then, only have one child per mortal parent so as to preserve the balance?

Many people lust for eternal life but when you stand back and look at the decisions that this would force upon us, I think that it is perhaps a good thing that we have not (yet) discovered that fountain of youth.

What do readers think?

How would you answer the questions posed above?

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