The future of death is intrinsically linked to the future of life extension, and humanity will have to face some uncomfortable truths as we navigate the moral maze of extending our lives way beyond nature intended. We are going to have to realize the fact that within a generation or two, death will be a choice, no longer an inevitability.
Life extension will soon to become a reality, it exists today in the form of medical intervention but currently that intervention is about stopping death rather than extending life. But we are on the edge of a revolution in health extension technology and we are not talking about just extending life but reversing the entire aging process. When I tell my friends that I plan to live until 150 years or longer the first reaction is normally revulsion to the idea of being old, ill and weak for a large part of their lives. This is understandable nobody wants to be ill, weak or have an awful quality of life for 10, 20, 100 years but this misses one of the most fundamental scientific principles behind trying to extend life, that the easiest way to extend life is by reversing the aging process in its entirety.
As much as we may not like to admit it our body is just a very complicated system, we have already started to hack into its core systems through DNA, and once that code if fully understood reprogramming it becomes relatively simple activity. In fact the really interesting results on life extension come from manipulating DNA, sticking it in a retrovirus(which is basically a fancy way of reprogramming DNA) and letting it run amok in the host organism which in most cases are mice. Various studies have shown that you can increase the average lifespan of mouse by up to 60% and that’s just the start. The really interesting studies are where they aged mice to 70-80(in mice years) there hair started to fall out, their brains shrink by 25% and they develop arthritis. Once they started to apply the therapeutic treatment to these old mice, not only did they live a lot longer, they started to regrow their hair, there arthritis disappeared and there brains regrew to their original size. Not only did they live longer they became younger.
There are a huge number of moral, economical and social arguments that need to be approached once life extension becomes a reality. We will cover these in the future, but for the purposes of this article we are going to focus on is when death becomes a choice.
Death seems inherently sad for our species; it could be argued that this is just a social construct and that humans have made death sad through thousands of years of rituals and religion. Personally I suspect there is more to it than that, studies show that in the animal kingdom they also mourn the loss of individuals in a social group. So it stands to reason that both the fear of death and the mourning of death are probably woven into our evolutionary history. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective if a social species associates pain to death then that species have an incentive to reduce the risk of death for the other members. This increases the overall odds of that species will survive. Maybe death was the birth of social behavior.