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Is immortality unethical?

Immortality, living forever, has always been an ambition and goal for humans. And at least in so far as beating aging is concerned it is coming closer to reality as we cure diseases and we may eventually find a way to stop or turn back aging. If this happens would it be right for us to go ahead and do it? There would be immense consequences such as population problems, possibly great expense and inequality as some are able to take advantage of the new technology and others cannot. At the moment the ethics of immortality are pretty fantastical as it is unlikely to affect anyone who is currently alive but perhaps we should get the debate rolling to help our children’s children decide!

All the Yes points:

  1. It will widen the rich/poor divide.
  2. Overcrowding
  3. The old will outnumber the young.
  4. Mental health problems will be exacerbated.
  5. Immortality without a task suited to immortality is meaningless.

All the No points:

  1. Its our ethical duty to develop immortality.
  2. We would be letting down our species not to.
  3. Life extension is a science.
  4. All major religions in the world promise an immortal afterlife/lives(for those who believe in multiple reincarnations)
  5. ANy decision on how long someone should be allowed to live is completely arbitrary.

It will widen the rich/poor divide.

Yes because…

The difference in life expectancy is already massive between those who can afford a decent standard of living, quality of health care etc. and those who can’t. Immortality, however it is attained, will have a cost, some will be able to afford it and some won’t. Death is the ‘great leveller’, it comes to everyone equally, and if there is such thing as immortality treatment, the difference between rich and poor will be so great we may even become two different species.

No because…

Death is not the greatest leveller ever. Because the rich can die and then pass on their wealth to their children, the gap between the rich and the poor becomes greater. It is for this reason that we have so many debates revolving around inheritance tax [[https://debatewise.org/debates/333-inheritance-tax-should-be-raised-to-100-for-everyone-born-in-the-uk]]. One way to resolve the inequality would be to raise the inheritance tax to 100% as suggested in this debate. But hypothetically, immortality is in fact another way of reducing the difference. If the rich lived forever, then their wealth would be needed to sustain their own life. Therefore the wealth would not be passed to their children. If their children failed to make their own money, the wealth would have to get divided. As they lived forever and the family got bigger via more children being born the wealth would have to be split amongst more people. This reduces the wealth divide and therefore is ethical.


Yes because…

If everyone lived forever, there would be no way to reduce the population and eventually we will have massive overcrowding problems.

No because…

Longer-lived species do not have as many children. Without the motivation of desperation (needing to leave a legacy for when we die) we will also start having a lot less children, which will cancel out the effect of people not dying.

The old will outnumber the young.

Yes because…

In our society, adults already oppress and undermine the values of young people, because adults are generally in positions of power and young people aren’t. Immortality will mean that there are far more old people than there are young, as people will be living to more advanced ages and not necessary wanting to have children. Age and experience would to an even greater extent mean dominance in a heirarchy, people wouldn’t be able to empathise with youth. We would become a stagnant society with no fresh ideas, or newcomers might even die out altogether and we would be left with only the same people, like a dying Internet forum.

No because…

This depends on the form of immortality. Immortality could mean indefinite cell replenishment that, if taken at a young age, keeps ones mind and body forever young. In this situation, would one have a ‘young’ mentality due to the young brain and active, lively body, or an ‘old’ brain because of the many years of experience? The immortality may make age irrelevant – a form of existence as information on a computer. Or humanity may start to value youth more if it is seen to be rare – we already value standards of beauty that very few humans can actually live up to.

Mental health problems will be exacerbated.

Yes because…

Imagine if your problem was nothing to do with sickness or old age – if you had a non-organic mental health problem, for instance, or a long term problem with your life that you couldn’t sort out, such as if your partner died before the immortality treatment became available and you were left without her – and it ended up lasting for thousands of years. You would go completely insane.

Such a situation would not exist without immortality, and so if we choose to create the situation by introducing immortality, we are responsible for the suffering it brings with it, and so it is an ethical consideration.

People with mental health conditions should not feel they need to kill themselves in order to relieve a burden on others. Nor should outcasts feel that they are less important than ‘everyone else’.

No because…

This does not touch upon any ethical considerations of immortality, but whether it is desirable or not. Of course if everyone were immortal, then they would always have the option of killing themselves, although that opens a new door of the ethics of suicide[[https://debatewise.org/debates/1422-assisted-suicide-a-topic-for-debate]]. But if people were immortal, then it would open the door to being ethical – killing yourself in order to prevent your mental disorder becoming a burden upon everyone else.

Immortality without a task suited to immortality is meaningless.

Yes because…

In this mundane, restrictive consensus reality, there simply isn’t anything interesting or satisfying worth doing for however many thousands of years we are expected to live. Our everyday goals – the pursuit of power, money etc. won’t amuse us for that long. There won’t be the need to protect family if they won’t die either, relationships will soon become stale as people become bored of their routines with each other, nothing about life that was valuable because it was brief and fragile will be worth anything any more. In a fantastical situation where someone becomes a God, or brought to life as the eternal guardian of some holy relic or the operator of the control systems that maintain the planet’s atmosphere, this is different, but ours aren’t the kinds of lives suited to immortality.

No because…

Human beings do not only have the function to avoid death. We have interests/pursuits/hobbies; there a million things to discover about ourselves and the worlds around us.

The survival instinct has become softer as less effort is required to survive. If no effort is required to live, we can concentrate on other things(not carnal ephemeral ideas) . To claim that we’ll be bored and therefore should die is presumptuous and human beings are naturally organized which makes us like repetitive patterns and readable logic.

A voyage of discovery may end in a thousand years but creativity,design and consistent change as a result of boredom and recorded anguish could go on forever.

Its our ethical duty to develop immortality.

No because…

Immortality Isn’t Unethical’ – Alexander Chrisholm, Guardian.co.uk
‘With regards to immortality, I’m certainly a sympathiser: if a dictator was murdering tens of millions of people right across the world, we’d gladly do anything to overthrow him. And yet ageing, as eloquently put by the transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom, is a tyrant that kills us by the cartload – and what do we do to stop it? And yet most people remain unconvinced by the possibilities laid out by transhumanism, saying that even if it’s possible, it’s unethical.’

Yes because…

Immortality with superlative health; for each and everyone of us; is arguably ethical. Albeit if a means to achieve immortality was invented; it would be patented not freely distributed. Immortality is not the same as being disease-free so suffering and aging may also continue on. The age-gene is not the death-gene; there is no death gene; so to speak.

The ethics of euthanasia and the accounts of women with the longest recorded lives prod to the want to give up, being tired and that there comes a point when people do not want to suffer,live or work any more.

We would be letting down our species not to.

No because…

Every species seeks to adapt, to enable itself to survive better. What would be a better way to improve the human species than to make us unable to die?

Why is selfishness always unethical? If I am a member of a minority group and ‘everyone else’ around me is a member of the majority group who oppresses us, my honour will allow me to ignore them or even act to their detriment.

If the offspring will not be stronger than me (because I am already immortal and can replenish my cells to avoid illness and old age) why would my offspring be more important to the species than I am?

Yes because…

This does not fit into a logical argument. Yes, every species does seek to ADAPT to suit its environment, but species do not seek immortality of the individual. They want their young to survive, and their young following that. This is entirely selfless. However, to seek immortality of the individual, immortality of the self; that is selfish and therefore unethical. By seeking immortality of the self we are taking away from the cycle of life. We should die knowing that we have left behind something to help. Not to continue living making resources hard to come by.

Life extension is a science.

No because…

Just like the medical technology we already have to enhance and prolong our lives, whatever technique we use to become immortal will be another tool. Tools by themselves are ethically neutral. If humans decide to hoard the technology or only sell it at an extortionately high price, it will be unethical behaviour, but it won’t make the technology itself unethical. Debating what the dangers of immortality are is vital – to bring immortality into the world in a rash, ignorant way would itself be unethical – but calling immortality, as a concept, ‘unethical’ is false.

Counterargument: Kyodo (possibly the oldest man living today) expressed that he is tired but doesn’t want to die.-[[http://www.grg.org/CalmentMen.html]]
It is unethical to doom everyone to an unavoidable death when the possibility of immortality exists.

Yes because…

It is unethical since the science will not be freely and equally distributed in when/if it is practiced.
Seeking physical immortality by religion; could mean averting God’s judgment or attempting to be at an equal standing with God. In this sense it is arrogant,selfish and unethical.

From a point of view, that puts religion aside:

Those who can get to be immortal by Lord Acton’s principle “Power corrupts, absolute power, corrupts absolutely” will be moral filth as a direct consequence of immortality. Power is a relative concept if everyone is immortal( those who do not die; will be, in the scenario where a few people acquire the trait) then there is no issue. However Immortals like the Gods in Greek mythology will bully and abuse the mortals; playing games with them; this would be amoral; as well. [[http://www.megaessays.com/essay_search/euthanasia_justified.html]] [[http://www.demogr.mpg.de/books/drm/007/3-4.pdf]]

Nip it in the bud they say; a cause of evil is evil itself.

All major religions in the world promise an immortal afterlife/lives(for those who believe in multiple reincarnations)

No because…

The holy books of all three Monotheist religions(Christianity,Islam and Judaism) claim that Prophets like Noah and Adam lived to be about a thousand years(far longer than the highest recorded lifespan of the modern human; less than 200 years). [[http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2008/06/04/did-people-live-over-900-years]] The claim that longevity is irreligious can be easily shirked off, taking into account these religious parables.

All religions promise the immortality of the soul; God or the Gods had no beginning nor end and we are promised immortality(either in the after-world or in a manifestation of a series of reincarnations) . The pursuit of immortality by means of ‘suicide’ is usually discouraged and the antediluvian religions of yore that requested virgin sacrifices etc are no longer relevant off the pages of history.

A Hindu window is expected to commit suicide or serve the gods till death; this custom (sutti) is fast disappearing because of Islamic and colonial influences in the subcontinent. Either way Hinduism promises a series of afterlives and therefore death is not the final death and therefore not really a move against immortality[[http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/2009/01/how-does-religion-prevent-suicide.html]]

However; as suicide is discouraged by texts of the Abrahamic beliefs and one is encouraged to do everything one can to live on (murder in self-defense is pressed in most religious texts); pursuing/seeking immortality within this life is not unethical but religiously egged on.

Yes because…

Death is mortality. Immortality is the afterlife requires mortality in this one at least in the physical sense. We are encouraged to employ various strategies to bring us closer to heaven/a-better-next-life.

Religions are deeply entrenched in the war context. If a soldier dies he is honoured/honored for fighting bravely and serving his Lord, the Lord. This act of bravery is selfless and humble whereas not going to war to kill or be killed is thought to be cowardly. The pursuit of immortality/longevity in this life at all costs is thus discouraged as, in this context it is cowardly,selfish and unethical.

All purely selfish pursuits are put down by religion. If you do everything you can to be immortal while others die around you; you are not doing anything moral.

Fasting, an act required, by most religions is a process by which you deny food/sex(the ultimate luxury?) for yourself to experience the pain of the deprived or less-fortunate. Deprivation & sacrifice to feel deprivation is considered ethical in religion; thus.

Suicide motivated by the”One less mouth to feed”logic, is the ultimate act of selflessness/sacrifice, it cannot be unethical.

ANy decision on how long someone should be allowed to live is completely arbitrary.

No because…

A thousand years ago we would have been dead by the time we were fourty.

Yes because…

If immortality was achieved, then we would have to do just that. We would need to decide how long an individual could live. If everyone went on forever, then there would be no room for a new generation eventually. At this time there is some amount of random chance involved in longevity, but in a world of immortals there would have to be a clearly defined limit.

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7 years ago

I appreciate the topic and the diversity in the pros/cons you’ve selected. However, I’d like to make some additions and clarifications. First, it is possible, indeed likely, that people alive today will be directly affected by the accomplishment of biological immortality (if you’re not familiar with Dr. Aubrey de Grey…look him up, read his stuff). Secondly, immortality will not be forced upon anyone, it will be entirely up to the individual; optional. Now, in terms of the socio-economic disparity widening and bifurcating the population, there has been–and, due to the proliferation of globalization, will continue to be–an increase in moral accountability, which I believe will lead to the sharing of the immortal capacity. **(As a note on moral accountability and in terms of game theory: look at the ‘peace’ established once the ‘games’ are indefinite and with the same ‘players’ as opposed to fixed and continually different players. Question this: is an individual more or LESS likely to treat someone else badly when he or she will be held accountable for a longer amount of time? [This is in reference to the immortals bullying the mortals…as the immortals will hold each other and the mortals accountable for the treatment of all beings.])

The obstacles of the world-wide implementation of immortality–or should we say Indefinite Life Extension (ILE)–would likely be politically and economically natured…which doesn’t seem good for those not amongst the top of this ladder, on the other hand, it provides an opportunity for the world’s people to further come together and work on a common, practical goal. Next I’d like to address the issue of suffering. Suffering is intrinsic in life, regardless of its length (further, it can be argued that suffering is partly what allows for the value of life and would thus be counterproductive to get rid of it). The MOST VALID argument against immortality, as far as I can tell, is the possible mismatch in understanding and/or goal(s) between the young and old. Though, I think a good and natural solution to this will be those continuing with the current way of life in terms of the ages at which people marry and raise children. This means there will be a consistent inflow of children, and thus continuous “new” outlooks.

There is much more to talk about, but this seems fitting for now. Can’t wait for others to join in the conversation not only to help me ameliorate my current misinterpretations, but better, to reach the best understanding of the issues we will face and have to come together to overcome. We can do this, everyone. And I am beyond excited. :)

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