Should We Live Forever?

by Christopher White, Ramsey Institute Project Director on May 19, 2014

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Earlier this month, members of our Paul Ramsey Institute gathered for a day long discussion of Dr. Gilbert Meilaender’s new work, Should We Live Forever?. Dr. Meilaender is a previous recipient of the CBC’s annual Paul Ramsey Award and a Paul Ramsey Institute Scholar, and was on hand to lead the discussion.

The book is a masterful exploration of the ethical complexities around aging. How do we, the book asks, affirm the good of human life, while also recognizing that there might be necessary limitations to our efforts to extend it? Shouldn’t we be good stewards of advances in medicine and technology in order to extend our time on earth with family members and friends and achieve as much as possible for the good of our communities to the maximum extent possible? As we continue to age, is there ever a point we should stop various efforts of age retardation and let nature run its course without human interference? These are some of the challenging questions raised in this book and that our team of Ramsey Scholars and Fellows wrestled with during our time together.

While our discussion raised more questions than it provided answers, I believe the subject of life prolongation to be one worth having often—especially considering the numerous efforts by certain individuals and groups that seek to extend “life” forever. Understanding and evaluating the motivations and desires behind these movements is essential in our endeavors to uphold the value of human life, whether it be at the level of philosophical debate or public policy.

Aging and death is something that all of us will face at some point—and this reality is one worth serious reflection. As Dr. Sulmasy, the 2014 recipient of our Paul Ramsey Award, reminded us, the practice of ethics must begin with the starting point of our reality—hence, our efforts to try and reconcile our desires to live a long life and put off aging and death as long as possible, with a recognition that every great story must eventually have an ending in order for it to be satisfactory. We certainly didn’t solve this dilemma—but even the exploration of it is one that is good for both our individual souls and the future of bioethics.

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