Don’t Drag Me Along into Your Grave, Daniel Callahan

I don’t want to die, but apparently Daniel Callahan wants me to.  He wants me to say nothing, do nothing about aging and just wait until I am 75 and die quietly. Well, that’s not going to happen, mister.

Bioethicisits like Callahan are the ones responsible for our suffering from the horrors of aging-related diseases and death. And here’s why. The opinion of bioethicists prevents the progress from being fast enough to cure aging. The decision-makers rely upon what senior “thinkers” like Callahan have in mind on the problem of life extension. Unfortunately, in the case of aging, this opinion is merely a handling of the topic by people, who  are not competent enough and don’t take all the society in consideration. They claim they do, but they don’t really. As a matter of fact, the ethical position is on the transhumanist side. We believe the life of a person is the most important thing, and it is worth fighting for regardless of the situation. A person’s life is the ultimate value. Callahan, on the contrary, states that, basically, people shouldn’t be alive if they are over 75 years of age, because they are too expensive to be alive for the country. Well, apparently, this doesn’t concern Mr. Callahan’s life, which is too precious for the country that his ethical position makes an exception and lets him perform a heart surgery at 80 and be perfectly fine with it.

What is obscure for Daniel Callahan is the fact that even if the current biomedical advances are not yet powerful enough to cure aging and prolong the youthful state of the body, they definitely will be in the future. There’s a good chance researchers will come up with ways to cure emthysema and heart failure, meaning not only alleviate the ill health, but get rid of the causes of those nasty diseases. I believe it will be possible to return people to their youthful state by applying gene therapy, various drugs, maybe stem cell therapies and other things that scientific progress will come up with. But in order for the science to move along and give us the gifts of not getting old and maybe even reversing old age and bad health, biothicists like Daniel Callahan should stop thinking about themselves and start thinking about the society.

I’m pretty sure Callahan doesn’t think he’s going to live much longer, and he is trying to make longevity seem like an undesirable thing – a world populated with oblivious elderly like in Swift’s Gulliver’s travels, so that he doesn’t feel bad for himself. But by doing so, he is making this sick dream of a 18th century schizophrenic writer a reality. He is slowing down the progress by making other believe that life shouldn’t be extended.

Life should be extended. It’s the most ethical thing to do. There is always hope that science will come up with the solution to your particular situation and your health problems will be gone. The future is worth fighting for, so don’t give in to the “oh, there’s nothing we can do about aging” mood and start learning about all the exciting research news on longevity, post about the importance of aging research in social media and meet with like-minded people online and in real life. These simple steps can be a great counterbalance to all the Callahans in the world.



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19 responses to “Don’t Drag Me Along into Your Grave, Daniel Callahan

  1. Quite right. Longevity is not the enemy. Aging is. We need to make 80 the new 50, or even less, so that people can be productive longer, not so that people can merely linger in expensive care. Callahan is right to worry about costs and suffering, but the solution to that is not make sure people die quickly – and anyway, why should we aspire to that only in old age? Why not kill off 30-year olds with cancer to save ourselves the expense suffering there too? That’s not what we humans do. We strive. We push the envelope nature gave us and reinvent the rules.
    Callahan is a broken down old man, sorry to say it, both in body and mind. If only there was a way to…make him youthful and healthy again.

  2. I will go you one better – this is a matter of life and death, and as any body of ethics will dictate, that gives wide latitude to acceptable behavior. We are entitled to defend our right to live from people like Daniel Callahan (and just to be even handed and not to single out any one person) and the Catholic church’s hierarchy. Read “The Transhumanist Wager” for a taste of what is probably going to be necessary for us to win our freedom from “social conservatives” and others who want to force their sick and old fashion view of right and wrong on us.

  3. Ohyes

    Great post, thanks…
    Btw. is that a real picture of you and Callahan? 🙂

  4. Daniel Callahan “arguments” are entirely academic. And they are pathetic. People like him are the reason that I cannot respect the intellectual vigor of bioethics.

  5. Will Nelson

    “Bioethics” is a completely useless field at the moment. It’s completely conditioned on the state of science now and in the past, rather than looking forward to what might happen. Callahan’s assumption that living longer will cost more is typical and, of course, misses the whole point. If it costs more then IT WON’T BE LIFE EXTENSION because when you’re spending alot of money on someone’s healthcare, it means they are about to die.

  6. There I so much wrong with this website, that I don’t know where to start.

  7. You could start with “The main goal of science is to increase human viability”. What an amazingly egocentric view of the pursuit of knowledge.

    The main goal of science, philosophy, the humanities etc. is to further our understanding of the universe and our place in it.

  8. This egocentric view shares with all western religion the ridiculous idea that humankind somehow represents the end point, the goal of everything around us, instead of the more accurate view that we are merely one more evolutionary branch of life in an amazingly complex and interrelated biosphere. Given our short time on this planet, we are not even the most successful evolutionary effort to date. Given the devastating impact we are having on the biosphere, we are very possibly a dreadful mistake, an evolutionary dead end unless we use our unique intelligence to better understand our proper place in things.

    • Our intelligence has the capacity to restore the damage we are causing to the planet. There are in fact quite a lot of people working on that. All environmental problems will be solved. That is not our main issue.
      Our main issue is survival. Now the intellectual power of the humanity has reached such a level when we can change our genes, change nature, change evolution itself. Of course, the biological evolution is not going anywhere, but human intelligence is now the most important factor. Scientific advances make it possible for those who lost sight to see, for those who lost limbs to have them back again in the form of robotic prosthetics, for those who caught a dangerous infection be treated with antibiotics and survive.
      The longer people live and the healthier they are, the more good the humanity will do to the surrounding biosphere, so I wouldn’t worry about that too much. I would rather worry about the perspective to get cancer, or stroke, or Alzheimer’s. Saving billions of lives from those diseases is what fighting aging is about.
      Fighting aging is in no way egotistic. It means life for every one on the planet, all living things.

      • A mentor and sometimes sparring partner I know and respect, and who used to be a president of a fortune 500 company and is now president of the school where I sometimes teach, is fond of telling me why the average power-broker (like people he knows), is so uncaring about the planet. First, he’s probably in his late 50s, even 60s, he has all the toys and wealth anyone could dream of. Second, he figures he has another 20, maybe 30 years of productive life left. And, since he figures his kids and their kids should make their own solutions, he’s not that concerned what will happen after he’s (and it’s usually a “he”) is gone. As my friend says, “Apres Moi, la deluge.'”
        Finally, over a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner recently, I asked him, “Well, a lot of people are working on serious life extension possibilities now. What happens if, say, life for these middle aged powerful people is extended 100 years, with good health.”
        My friend was a bit taken aback by this – he is in his mid-70s himself, and battling stage 3 cancer. He finally said, “Then it would be totally different. You’d see the head of Goldman Sachs dressed like a hippie and speaking out against global warming and all the other long term issues we face….If it’s HIS future on the line, THEN he’ll get interested.”
        So, a new strategy for getting interest in solving the world’s overuse of resources, global warming and other long-term issues is to convince the wealthy middle-aged plutocrat that he might have to still live in the world 100 years from now. Then watch what happens…

      • “The longer people live and the healthier they are, the more good the humanity will do to the surrounding biosphere, so I wouldn’t worry about that too much.”

        Are you mad, blind, or profoundly ignorant of everything that has happened over the last century?

        Sorry. I was trying to take you seriously.

        • Alan – which group is the most active and engaged in trying to fix the problems of the world? People in their 20s or people in their 70s? It is the former. Yes, part of that is youthful idealism, but part of that is A) energy, B) Projected time left to live. Well, increasing the amount of healthy lifespan by, say, 2X, would take care of both of those. Suddenly, (or, more likely, gradually), people in their 70s will be youthful and energetic, with another 70 years reasonably projected to live. Now, they would have a personal stake in what happens! If, as you imply, people are selfish and self-centered, what could be better motivation to solve the world’s problems than extra time on the Earth?
          Doubling or tripling longevity with healthy years would change everything. EVERYTHING. It’s not just adding years, it’s adding possibilities.

          • Hi, Scott.

            I did not say that people are selfish and self-centered. Although, as a matter of fact, everyone is self-centered; this is almost part of the definition of being human. Many (most? I don’t know) are selfish as well.

            The life expectancy of most people on earth has been doubled over the last century; exceptions are some areas of Africa, etc. Coinciding with this dramatic improvement of health/longevity has been a dramatic drawdown of resources, and despoiling of the planet, including being now on the brink of disastrous irreversible climate change.

            That sounds pretty pessimistic, doesn’t it? But, take another look. I said NOTHING in the above sentences about the outlook going forward. I merely made a few factual statements about what has happened in the past. My statements ARE factual, and unarguable. As for the future, I am cautiously optimistic; I think there is a fair chance that things will go moderately well, or at least not disastrously. But I also realize that things could easily go disastrously bad; it is all up in the air, right this moment.

            Now, in response to your point: There is NO evidence that “doubling or tripling longevity” would have any positive impact on solving the earth’s critical problems. We have already had a doubling, and the biggest global environmental problems have only gotten much worse. It is possible that effective solutions to those problems could coincide with increasing longevity, but at this moment there is zero basis for assuming that that will (necessarily will) be the case. If anything, there is fair evidence that the opposite will be the case.

            In spite of all the above, I remain, again, cautiously optimistic. But when I see breezy assertions assuming things for which there is NO (or negative) evidence, it bugs me.


        • PS: I agree with this: “Our intelligence has the capacity to restore the damage we are causing to the planet”.


  9. ?

    If people’s lifespans are extended, how are we going to deal with resource depletion and overpopulation?

  10. ?

    I guess when we run out of food due to overpopulation, there is always Soylent Green.

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