To Members and Friends of the Los Angeles Gerontology
Research Group: Editorial
on Deathism… — Steve Coles
As used in
the longevity science community,
deathism is a catch-all term for philosophies and viewpoints that
encourage relinquishment of medical progress and acceptance of death by
aging rather than the infinitely better alternative of medical research
to extend healthy life and prevent age-related disease. If you have ever
tried to persuade people that it is in fact a great plan to try to
cure aging by controlling its root causes, you will have found that
deathism is in fact very prevalent. Strangely, most people march towards
a slow and painful death due to degenerative aging with
little to no intent of doing anything about it.
Here is a great short post to show to those of your friends and family
who think this way:
Q: What is Deathism?
A: Deathism is the belief that everyone should die.
Q: What is Anti-Deathism?
A: Anti-Deathism is the belief that death should not be
Q: How the hell is that supposed to work?
A: Medical research. Aging has biological causes which we grow ever
closer to unraveling.
Q: What happens when the earth is full of people because
population never stops increasing?
A: Space colonization is one possible answer, as is introducing
disincentives for childbearing (like China did, though they went a bit
overboard). But the earth’s population is increasing regardless, so
banning life-extension would only be a delaying tactic.
Q: Poor people already have much lower life expectancies than rich
people. Won’t life-extension technology just make this gap
A: At first, probably, yes. That’s how new technologies work. Two
decades ago cell phones were only owned by rich people. Now they’re
transforming sub-Saharan Africa. Technologies (unlike wealth) trickle
Q: But it’s wrong to focus on improving the lives of rich people when
we could be helping the less fortunate!
A: Why don’t you apply this standard to other types of medical
research? Should we abandon all research into aging-related diseases like
Alzheimer’s, and instead use that money on charitable work abroad?
I’m in favor of continuing to pursue many goals simultaneously, like
Q: The rarer something is, the more precious. So too for years. Life
extension would devalue human experience.
A: Rarity is one source of value, but there are others. My favorite
novel would not be improved just because I was the only one to ever read
Q: Extending human lifespans is unnatural!
A: So is polyester.
Q: But I don’t want to live forever!
A: OK. You don’t have to.
L. Stephen Coles, M.D., Ph.D., Cofounder
Los Angeles Gerontology Research GroupE-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgE-mail: