Substantial Life Extension and Meanings of Life

P. H. J. M. Derkx, W. B. Drees (Editor)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingArticleAcademic

16 Downloads (Pure)


Substantial extension of the human lifespan has become a subject of lively debate. One reason for this is the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2001 and the experimental avenues for biogerontological research the project enables. Another is recent theoretical progress in biogerontology (Austad 1997; Hayflick 1994; Holliday 1995; Kirkwood 1999; Ricklefs & Finch 1995). The character of modern culture is at least as important a factor in explaining why life extension intervention is currently debated. Three existential factors that playa role here are fear of death (fear of no longer existing), fear of the suffering involved in the process of dying, and the sometimes obsessive desire to preserve good health in order to pursue personal life projects and goals (Turner 2004). The historical background of this motivational pattern is 'the decline since the Renaissance offaith in supernatural salvation from death; concern with the worth of individual identity and experience shifted from an otherworldly realm to the "here and now'; with intensification of earthly expectations' (G.J. Gruman quoted in Post 2004a, 82, see also Baumeister 1991, 77-115). There is a lot of interest in substantial life extension, but would it really be a good thing? Experience with other revolutionary technologies shows us that once they exist, they can no longer be stopped. Too much has been invested in them: once research has produced an effective technology catering to all-too-human desires, there is seldom a way back. So we had better investigate the worldview aspects of considerable human lifespan extension now, before this extension has become genuinely practicable, or, before large sums of money have been spent on it. In this article I will first consider what 'substantial life extension' and a 'meaningful life' means. After that I will deal with some arguments and considerations concerning the relationship between the two.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationTechnology, Trust, and Religion: Roles of Religions in Controversies on Ecology and the Modification of Life
PublisherLeiden University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)978 90 8728 059 8
ISBN (Print)978 90 8728 059 8
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2006

Cite this