The seminar, called “The Science and Ethics of Eliminating Aging,” was sponsored by the University’s Center for Human Values and chaired by bioethics professor Peter Singer. De Grey presented his research on anti-aging therapy, promoted his vision for a world in which humans do not experience the negative effects of aging and evaluated the benefits of and objections to this future society.
De Grey is currently the chief science officer of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Foundation, a non-profit devoted to anti-aging research that he founded, and editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Rejuvenation Research.
In an interview before the seminar, de Grey said he hoped to use the lecture “to educate people that the defeat of aging is both feasible and desirable.”
De Grey began his presentation by defining aging. He said his foundation does research on ways to limit damages done to the human body by natural metabolic processes and that he hopes the research will allow them to identify a physical state in which one could perpetually “look and feel and function like a young adult.”
There are seven specific types of damage aging does to the body, de Grey noted. Although solutions to these have not been reached, he described a scientific breakthrough his group achieved several months ago; a study they had performed showed increased viability of cells in a culture, which he said could have implications for stopping the damage that causes cardiovascular disease.
De Grey then described the feasibility and societal benefits of successful development of anti-aging technology. He said his research suggests a “50-50 chance of developing these therapies within the next 25 years to a level of sophistication that will confer ... robust human rejuvenation.”
On a slide comparing two pictures, de Grey simply summarized his views on the positives and negatives of anti-aging: one of young people at play labeled “Fun” and another of a sickly senior citizen labeled “Not Fun.” Therefore, he argued that everyone — from biologists to journalists to ordinary citizens practicing advocacy — should work to achieve successful anti-aging solutions.
Finally, de Grey suggested that a society in which people live indefinite life spans would have a higher quality of life. He noted that critics argue that indefinite life spans would lead to overpopulation and that living forever might not be desirable. However, those are not reasons to halt research into anti-aging solutions and those are ethical questions best decided by future generations, he said.
“Even if we did have a problem [arising from anti-aging development] and humanity had a choice to make ... that’s a choice humanity of the future is entitled to make for itself rather than having that choice imposed on it by our not choosing to develop these therapies,” de Grey said.
After de Grey spoke, visiting deputy director of the Institute for Science & Ethics at Oxford and former University professor Bennett Foddy responded by asking whether people should be allowed to live on after getting to a certain age in good health. He pointed out that the world has a set carrying capacity and suggested that society may need different ethical standards for people who choose to undergo anti-aging treatment.
The lecture was held at Friend Center as part of a series called the “Ira W. Decamp Bioethics Seminars.”