News from Lifespan.io campaigns

Before I’m too late for the party, I’d like to let you know that Lifespan.io’s crowdfunding campaign AgeMeter for the development of a diagnostic system to measure functional human age has been extended by two weeks. Presently, 70% of the necessary funds have been collected, i.e. a little over 20.000 dollars out of 30.000. It would be great if yet this other campaign made it to its goal, so if you haven’t made your donation yet, please do—remember, there’s no such thing as a donation which is too small: Broadly speaking, as long as the amount you donate is a positive real number, it is much appreciated! The AgeMeter campaign will end on September 16, 2017.

Contextually, another Lifespan.io crowdfunding campaign has been launched: MouseAge, an AI project aimed at assessing ageing biomarkers in mice visually, using image recognition techniques. If successful, this approach could help speed up rejuvenation research and reduce animal suffering. I’ll let the researchers speak:

MouseAge ends on October 14, 2017. As always, please donate if you can, and do spread the word as far and wide as possible. Thanks!

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Introducing Rejuvenaction Italia and other news

I’m pleased to announce the launch of Rejuvenaction Italia, the Italian version of Rejuvenaction. As you might know, Italian is my native language, and while I have neglected/postponed online advocacy in Italian for over two years now, I realised that, as the topic of rejuvenation starts to reach broader audiences, there’s a necessity to make information available in several languages, for the benefit of those who don’t speak English. Regardless of one’s native language, the questions people have about rejuvenation are always the same: How do you do it? Why? Have you thought of overpopulation? And tyrants living forever? and so on. Thus, Rejuvenaction Italia (henceforth officially nicknamed RJi, and accordingly Rejuvenaction will be simply RJ) is essentially a clone of RJ, except in Italian. The blog won’t be nearly as lively as that here on RJ because, you know, there are only 24 hours in a day. I will translate some of the most substantial posts or important news from RJ to RJi, though, and there will be RJi-specific posts that won’t be worth translating into English.

If you speak Italian and/or know someone who does, it may be worth checking out RJ’s Italian clone and share the news on your social media. I would appreciate that very much. 🙂 There’s a link to RJi at the top of the sidebar.

As I translated the contents of RJ into Italian, I took advantage of the occasion to rewrite some articles that were long due for an update, and added entire new sections. You might have noticed them silently popping up here on the English site, together with a minor graphics revamp.

The Ageing section has been extensively rewritten. While I was planning to have a much more comprehensive and technical biology section, I eventually discarded the idea, for three reasons: It would have taken far too long (especially given my lack of specific expertise); it would no longer be the simple, newbie-friendly yet extensive introduction to the topic that I aim for; and it would essentially be duplicating what FA! and LEAF already are doing. Nonetheless, you might want to check out the new What is biological ageing? and What is rejuvenation? pages, as well as the What else can be done? page.

How to help used to be a single, rather messy page; now it is a section in its own right, with a page explaining how to donate, one about how to advocate and join the rejuvenation community, and a little one for scientists or scientists-to-be.

The new Resources section contains a guide to advocacy and a brief list of books of interest; the Links page has been reorganised.

Finally, I decided to group all info about yours truly and this website in a single About section, which also contains a sitemap to ease navigation, contact info, and licence info.

Other minor tweaks aren’t worth mentioning; what I do want to mention (horribly late) is LEAF’s new AgeMeter crowdfunding campaign to realise a tablet device for scanning ageing biomarkers. The campaign was created by the Centers for Age Control, and as of this writing it has reached 60% of its goal. You can read more about biomarkers and this campaign here. The campaign will end on September 2, 2017; I have already made my donation, and I hope you will make one too.

The meaning of death?

The point of this blog is to advocate for rejuvenation therapies. In principle, it could be written without ever typing the word ‘death’, because rejuvenation is about keeping people healthy, and the indefinite postponement of death is merely a possible consequence of constant good health. In this sense, this and many other posts and articles on Rejuvenaction could be considered off-topic. However, it is not uncommon for people to accept, rather uncritically, the stale cliché according to which life gets its meaning from death, and without the latter, it would not have meaning. If rejuvenation can stave off death and extend lives indefinitely, will these extended lives be utterly meaningless?

No. Time and time again have I said this before, but I still fear that this misconception may be one of the worst enemies of rejuvenation; consequently, I spend much time thinking about its roots and how to debunk it.

Whether life gets its meaning from death or not, people who think it does implicitly admit that life has no meaning per se. In a general sense, this is correct. Life is meaningless, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It is no reason to be depressed, and I have explained why many times: Meaning is not an intrinsic property of anything. To paraphrase a common adage, meaning lies in the head of the beholder, and that’s where you should expect to find the meaning—if any—of anything, life included. In other words, it is up to you to find meaning in your life, and you should neither expect it to have meaning by default, nor let others decide for you what the meaning of your life is. This applies to everything else too. Whenever the meaning of X is being discussed, one should always ask to whom X means what, or who meant what when they did or said X. It goes without saying that, just like life, death has no intrinsic meaning either. My view is that, up to this point in time, finding the meaning of death has been an even more pressing problem for humans than finding the meaning of life; the reasons of this urgency stem from an evolutionary paradox. However, the meaning of death is much more difficult to find than other meanings. It is for these reasons, I argue, that the meaning of death ended up being that of giving meaning to life itself.

The blow inflicted by the discovery of biological evolution to the idea of an intrinsic meaning of life was arguably the worst. Far from being carefully designed by a loving creator, life is the product of random mutations and the blind force of natural selection, indirectly weeding out genes less fit to their environment through the death of their unfortunate carriers. Evolution has no meaning, no purpose, and no goal: Creatures that we see today evolved because they could; it was not meant, it was no one’s goal. The conditions on Earth were such that some lifeforms were more suitable to the environment and managed to pass on their genes to future generations; others were not as lucky and did not survive to tell the tale.

Random mutations, one little change at a time, gave these creatures certain features. If these features made the creatures more fit for reproduction, they would thrive more than other creatures without the same features. Eventually, creatures with these ‘good’ features became the only game in town. In the case of humans, two of these features were their intelligence and their innate desire to live and avoid death. (Much many more species than just us possess the latter feature, though perhaps it is ‘just’ an instinct without conscious desire.)

It is obvious why a strong wish to live makes an individual more fit for reproduction: If I fear death and try to avoid it by all possible means, I stand better chances to live long enough to reproduce than somebody who isn’t so afraid; this somebody is likely to put less effort in avoiding death and is thus more likely to die before having children than I am. Therefore, evolution has ‘penalised’ creatures who did not have a strong survival instinct, and ‘rewarded’ those who did. This is why we hold our lives so dear.

Human intelligence made us extremely fit for survival; our curiosity and drive to answer questions that we ourselves ask are among the things that make us unique on this planet. However, there’s a flip side: Eventually, they made us wonder why we die. While today we have a rather good idea of the answer, back in the days of the first human societies this was no trivial question. Since evolution has made us so afraid of death, it was inevitable that we’d start wondering about our mortality and looking for more and more clever ways to cheat death.

However, evolution ‘cares’ for the survival of the genes, not of their carrier; the carrier only needs to live long enough to pass on the genes. What happens to them past that point is none of evolution’s concern. We have evolved brilliant self-repair machinery that blesses us which such long lives only because it gave us better chances to have children. Suppose that, back in the days of our early ancestors—and I am talking of non-human lifeforms that might well have lived in the abysses—there were two groups of creatures, group A and group B. Creatures in group A had a ‘normal’ longevity; on average, they would reach reproductive age just fine and have children; ageing would then kill them after a certain time. Members of group B were just like those in group A, except that they lived much longer past reproductive age, because a set of lucky mutations gave them better self-repair machinery. In terms of ability to pass on their genes, group A had no disadvantage compared to group B. There was no reason why group A should have been outcompeted by group B so badly that, eventually, group B would have taken over. This is why evolution hasn’t bothered eliminating ageing: Assuming the necessary conditions were ever present, there has been no evolutionary pressure to eliminate ageing creatures from the pool. Any ‘anti-ageing genes’, or genes that significantly slowed down ageing, if they ever existed, were diluted in the rest of the pool, so that today we observe creatures that age to death and whose lifespans don’t vary too wildly among members of the same species.

This is the paradox that I was talking about: Evolution has made us fear death and wish to live indefinitely, but at the same time, it has not given us the means to fulfill that wish. Strictly speaking this is not a paradox; I just mean that we’re caught between a rock and a hard place—the fear of death and its apparent inevitability.

Whether death is really inevitable will be a matter for another post; for now, we’ll assume it is and focus on what this ‘death paradox’ has led us to.

The first and most evident sign of our attempts to solve the paradox are religions. With their promises of an afterlife, religions sidestep the problem entirely: Yes, we fear death and don’t want it; Nonetheless, die we do. But we don’t really die; only the body does. We will live on as pure spirits, or through reincarnation, or something like that. In ancient times, thanks to our ignorance of how the world works and their intrinsic unfalsifiability and appeal, religions and hopes of an afterlife spread like wildfire, and are still alive and well today. However, secularisation is taking its toll on all sorts of religious or magical thinking; the result is that, in terms of the death paradox, we’re getting back to square one. As our ever-growing understanding of the world started undermining the very idea of afterlife more and more, we needed to find other ways to put death out of our minds.

Some of us have resorted to accepting it: I am not sure I fully understand the concept, but it seems to boil down to convincing yourself there’s nothing to fear in death and you’re okay with it, and in some cases, giving yourself a certain air of superiority because of it. It is no mystery that accepting the inevitability death is largely regarded as a sign of wisdom; in part, this is because there would be little point in fighting the inevitable, but there is another reason, which is possibly even more important. Some accept death because, they say, it is better than the alternative, i.e. never dying. No one has first-hand, irrefutable evidence of this, of course, but our literature is full of entirely made-up stories on the misery of immortal creatures or the terrible price you pay for eternal life on Earth. Take zombies, or vampires, for example. They’re immortal alright—or at least they don’t die as long as they are not physically destroyed with weapons or rituals—but they were either possessed by an evil spirit, or infected by a terrible plague, or they sold their soul to the devil, or something. The moral of the story is always the same: The only ways you could avoid death are not something you’d like.

I’m sure there must be exceptions to the rule, but how many of you have ever heard of a story about an immortal creature, or a creature who can live indefinitely, that is not largely about how horrible or difficult this must be? More generally, do you know any stories where the ability to live for an indefinite timespan is seen as something positive, or at least not portrayed in negative light? Or—God forbid!—a story where indefinite lifespans are simply normal, and the plot is about something else than moralising on how long life should be? (Doctor Who could be an example if it wasn’t for the recurring theme of his bearing the weight of solitude as the last member of his species, not to mention the Doctor’s manifest hypocrisy about undoing ageing in the episode The Lazarus Experiment. That episode was a collection of the worst logical fallacies and clichés about life, death, and what is or isn’t human. The Doctor, an ageless being, regenerates back to life each and every time he’s about to die—as he attempts to in the very next episode—and yet he had the effrontery to claim that ‘It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person’. I could have bought that if his first incarnation, rather than the tenth, had said it.)

It is impossible not suspect a fox-and-grapes situation and think that scary stories about creatures who have the alleged misfortune of never dying are nothing but a way to make death more acceptable: If never dying is bad, then we can be at least a little bit less upset about the fact we all die. I am in no position to claim that everyone who says they accept death lies about it; this is quite probably not true. However, I remain sceptical.

Then there are the ‘adventurists’: Death, they say, is an adventure, which they’re excited to… live through. (Though this might be true only for the ‘well-organised mind’—whatever that means—according to another fictional character.) The reason why death would be an adventure, as I understand, is that we cannot be entirely sure of what lies beyond it. Even though we have very cogent reasons to think that beyond death there is absolutely nothing—as ‘nothing’ as it gets, in fact. In an hour, I’ll go to the mall. There’s no reason at all to think that anything but absolutely regular shopping will happen then, and yet, since I can’t be completely sure of it, in an hour I’ll live an ‘adventure’, at least according to this logic. I apologise if I come off cynical, but this sounds like yet another attempt to sugarcoat death in order to better cope with it and thus escape the death paradox.

Another way around the death paradox is the ‘death is part of life’ philosophy. Whether this is true or not is arguable: At least of one’s own death, I’m inclined to think that it is not, because death occurs precisely when life ends; rather than being part of life, I’d say death comes right after it. But this is, admittedly, just pointless nitpicking. The real issue is that whether death is or not part of life is irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant whether or not something is ‘natural’ to decide if it is good for you. Getting sick or being bullied are part of life for the vast majority of people. High child mortality used to be a very real part of life until we changed that. Yet these indisputable facts do not mean that any of these things are good for you or should remain a part of life. This way of thinking is a reasonably effective way to avoid losing one’s wits because of an unchangeable, undesirable reality—such as high child mortality—at least so long as this reality is indeed unchangeable. The claim that ‘child mortality is part of life’ might have consoled parents of their children’s death 200 years ago, but today it would console no one and probably outrage everyone. As soon as undoing ageing and postponing death indefinitely will become possible, the ‘part of life’ excuse will lose its efficacy.

The final way to circumvent the death paradox is the fabled ‘meaning of life’. This is the central problem of this post. What better way can there be to rationalise death and escape our mortal (pun intended) fear of it than making it what gives life itself its meaning? Far from being something we should fear or avoid, death becomes thus essential, for without it, life would have no point. That appears to be a great argument, at least up to the point where everyone nods approvingly without getting down to the nitty-gritty of it.

We have established at the very beginning of this post that meaning is not an absolute. Meaning is something we, the observers give to things. Death is nothing more than the name we gave to the status of a creature whose body is damaged beyond its ability to function; it most definitely is not an observer, and it cannot give meaning to anything, let alone life.

What does it even mean, to give meaning to life? We are, again, investigating a meaning, and thus there is no absolute answer. I may think that the meaning of… giving meaning to life is X; you might think it is Y. Neither of us is wrong. It’s a subjective matter. Most would probably agree that filling your life with activities, people, and things you love and enjoy is a valid candidate for the meaning of life; so is helping others, or doing something for the common good; something that we feel is appreciated by others, and are thus gratified by. Giving meaning to life might mean doing some of these things, and clearly, none of these potential meanings is given to life by death. However, these are viable options but aren’t the answer, because there is no single answer. You decide what is the meaning of your life; not old legends, not old myths, not clichés, not other people; you do. Thus, the only way death could be the meaning of your life would be if you decided so, which I hope you won’t do.

Not even being mortal gives more meaning or value to life, as some seem to think. Your mortality does nothing for you: It’s just the ‘ability’ to lose your life. It’s more of a potential problem than anything else. On the other hand, knowing of your mortality does do something for you: It makes you more careful not to lose your life. Mortality isn’t precious or valuable; being aware of mortality is.

Ultimately, there’s nothing especially wise in accepting death. In my opinion, the only exception is if you know for a fact that you will die within a time so short that nothing can be done to prevent it. At that point it may be sensible to play the ‘accepting card’, if you can, and enjoy whatever time you have left as best as you can. There is no meaning that death can give life, especially not death by ageing. The length of our lifespans is the result of a meaningless, purposeless process that happened for no other reason than the fact it could. Accepting that result as it is would be accepting that very meaninglessness—which, when you think that the intent was to give life meaning, would be sadly ironic.

New section: Reasons for rejuvenation

In the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a new section of Rejuvenaction: the Reasons for rejuvenation. As I said in that section, the motivation behind it is that this blog goes to great lengths to answer objections and concerns, but it had no dedicated section to explain why rejuvenation would be good. Newcomers, or people who aren’t on board yet, might well think that this idea needs a lot of defending while giving no reason to endorse it. I hope the new section will solve this problem.

As a side note, to prevent the horizontal menu from breaking down, the section Ageing and SENS has been moved under The problem of ageing. It’s a temporary arrangement, meaning—spoiler alert—that entire section too is due for a full rewriting, with a lot more science and a lot more details, plus a shorter summary, in the same style as those included in the Reasons for rejuvenation and Answers to objections sections. That’ll take a while, though. Other updates are underway too, and they’ll likely arrive sooner.

Additionally, I retouched a few answers to objections—most notably the everliving tyrants objection, which has been rewritten entirely—because some of my older articles used to have a far too condescending and inflammatory tone which was not only detrimental to the cause; I didn’t like it any more either. You know, I’m against growing old, not up. Hopefully those articles are better now, and further revisions are not out of the question.

Finally, you might have noticed that two new answers to objections have been added: the Ageing has its good sides objection, which dates a few weeks back already but I didn’t bother announcing, and the Living ‘forever’ would cause extreme risk aversion objection. Apparently, I never run out of objections and concerns to address. 😛

Update bundle #4

Gone are—for now—the golden days when I would publish a new post each week. So, for as long as my schedule is going to be this busy, I’ll have to be content with update bundles. I thought I’d let you know about a few news items and interesting things going on in anti-ageing community.

News from LEAF

On June 30 LEAF will host their first Journal Club event, with dr Oliver Medvedik. The topic will be the implications of epigenetic alterations on aging and as a primary aging process.

The recurring crowdfunding campaign to support LEAF has reached $1110, thus surpassing the first goal of $1000. The next one is $2000, and it’d be great if you could help us reach it, and advertise the campaign so that others may help too.

Another way you can help is by becoming a volunteer—there’s never a shortage of stuff to do in the world of anti-ageing research advocacy, and your talents may be precious. You can also join the community on discord to find out what’s going on and how you can help.

Keep an eye on LEAF, because new campaigns are to be expected fairly soon.

The state of the art

Rejuvenaction does a lot of rejuvenation advocacy, but doesn’t talk much about rejuvenation science. That is on my to-do list and is going to change; for the time being, here’s a brief update on a few research projects, categorised for simplicity the SENS way. None of these is exactly news, but they may give you an idea of where we are in terms of progress, in case you have been out of the loop.

LysoSENS

Clearing up the indigestible junk that accumulates in our lysosomes as we age is crucial in the fight against age-related diseases. The SENS approach to the problem of lysosomal dysfunction consists in upgrading our lysosomes with genes that allow them to produce enzymes that break down the previously unbreakable. A first example of this type of therapy moving towards the clinic is that of LysoCLEAR, an enzyme product in the pre-clinical trial stage specifically tailored to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and its early onset version, juvenile macular degeneration. AMD is one of the leading causes of blindness among the elderly; if successful, LysoCLEAR would not only help old and young alike get back their sight, but it could also pave the way to similar treatments for lysosomal dysfunction in different tissues of the body. Indeed, while LysoCLEAR is targeted to treat the macula, its creator Kelsey Moody is optimistic that the method behind LysoCLEAR can be adapted to target different tissues.

This is not exactly full-scale LysoSENS yet—because we’re not talking of inserting new genes anywhere but rather of a treatment based on enzyme replacement therapy—but it’s an excellent step forward and it definitely is a maintenance-based approach which, at the end of the day, clears out unwanted junk. I suppose it can be seen as a ‘manual’ version of LysoSENS, since the necessary enzymes to clear up the macula aren’t produced directly by the body but are delivered by the drug itself.

Another project, a joint effort by SENS Research Foundation and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, may help us get to the ‘automatic’ version of LysoSENS. The goal of the project is testing out an improvement on somatic gene therapy that uses CRISPR to control where specific genes are added to the genome. Further coverage can be found on FA! —which I always recommend as your primary source for anti-ageing science, together with LEAF. (See Jim’s comment below for a clarification.)

ApoptoSENS

Another cause of pathology in old age is the accumulation of senescent cells—cells that should die, but do not have the decency to do so. These felons have stopped replicating entirely, but don’t die. Instead, they stick around and secrete harmful chemicals. Their existence is a bit of a trade-off: They’re useful in small amounts (they play a role in wound healing and help preventing cancer), but once we hit old age they’ve built up to intolerable amounts, and far from being a solution, they become a problem. That’s why they’re one of the primary targets of ApoptoSENS.

In the past few years, senolytics—drugs capable of targeting and destroying senescent cells—have been often in the spotlight among the anti-ageing research community. Several biotech companies, such as Oisin, Unity, and CellAge, are working on different types of senolytics to get rid of excess senescent cells. The Life Extension Advocacy Foundation ran a rather successful crowdfunding campaign for CellAge last year, and Unity’s senolytics are supposed to enter clinical trials in 2018. Additionally, SENS Research Foundation and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging have recently joined forces on a research project focussed on the clearance of senescent cells in the immune system, led by renowned expert Professor Judy Campisi.

Methuselah Foundation’s new fund

Earlier this year (I told you I’m a slow poster) Methuselah Foundation launched the Methuselah Fund, aimed at providing financial help for promising scientific teams that would like to launch their own company focussed on rejuvenation biotechs. Professional investors’ interest is definitely welcome, and you can get in touch with sergio@methuselahfund.com if you’re interested; however, participants to the Methuselah 300 can complete their pledge by investing in the Methuselah Fund as well.

Upcoming MMTP Longevity Panel

MMTP will host a panel with dr. Alexandra Stolzing, dr. Aubrey de Grey, and other guests in early June—the exact date is to be confirmed. The panel will be livestreamed on Facebook and is offered as one of the rewards for donating to MMTP’s fundraiser on Lifespan.io in 2016. If you have any question to for Alexandra or Aubrey, or the other guests, be sure to submit it to info@majormouse.org.

Advancing Conversations with Aubrey de Grey

If you want an inexpensive, lightweight book that discusses the key points of the rejuvenation cause, either for your own reading or to recommend to others who aren’t willing to go through Ending Aging, I suggest you take a look to Douglas Lain’s Advancing Conversations: Aubrey de Grey—Advocate for an Indefinite Human Lifespan. It’s short, not sciencey and thus simple to read, and it answers quite a few questions that a newbie to the cause may have.

Be the Lifespan

I apologise for my long silence (both here and on l4t), but I’m having another of my crazy busy periods. As a matter of fact, I’ve got something going on behind the scenes for Rejuvenaction—major content updates that I’m planning and soon I’ll be working on, but don’t hold your breath. It’s gonna be a long thing, and I probably won’t get to it properly until my busyness is over.

In the meantime, have a look at Lifespan.io’s new campaign:


This campaign has no expiry date, and it aims at getting a decent monthly budget for LEAF/Lifespan.io to fund more and more projects and initiatives to help scientific research against age-related diseases and spread awareness. The base goal is 1000$, but with a higher budget, LEAF may be able to do a lot of cool things, like collaboration videos with big YouTube names such as SciShow and Kurzgesagt and yearly conferences. If you can spare even just a few dollars a month, you can help LEAF make a big difference.

You can also help out by spreading the word on your social media—remember to use the hashtags #aging, #crowdfundthecure, #bethelifespan.

Not all discriminations are born equal

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything new. I’ve been quite busy lately with a lot of things, including rebooting looking4troubles, my other blog. As a result, my topic list for Rejuvenaction has been growing dangerously long, so I decided it’s about time I tackled some of the lengthiest items on my list.

People like talking about justice, equality, and discrimination a lot. I mean a lot. In my experience, though, most tend to focus mainly or entirely on the type(s) of discrimination they’re more interested in for whatever reason, sometimes minimising others or not even noticing they exist in the first place. Some other times, they even end up endorsing one type of discrimination for the sake of warding off another.

As if poor people cared

Take the good ol’ ‘only the rich‘ objection against rejuvenation. Its essence is that, to forestall the possibility of rejuvenation being available only to a few wealthy ones, rejuvenation should not be created at all—if not everyone can have it, then no one should have it.

The core misconception behind this argument is obvious. Given a certain gap between rich people and poor people, if you better rich people’s lives in any way you do widen the rich-poor gap, but you do not change the poor’s quality of life at all. In other words, if you develop any new technology and only rich people have access to it, you make rich people better off than they were before, while nothing changes, in absolute terms, for the poor people. They are worse off than before with respect to the rich, but this hardly matters. Their living conditions are exactly the same as before, for good or bad. Rich people’s quality of life is not the yardstick by which we should measure everyone else’s quality of life. If extreme poverty didn’t exist and the poorest person in the world was as wealthy as a typical middle-class person in the western world, I think we’d have little to complain about the existence of all the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs. (Except perhaps for some who seem to be unable to lead a happy life if they don’t have something to be unhappy about.)

Even without bothering with rejuvenation, poor people don’t really care if Mark Zuckerberg has one Ferrari, or two, or three, or none—they’re likely more concerned with whether they have food for one day, or two, or three, or none. It could be argued that Zuckerberg could spend more money on the poor rather than on Ferraris (which he probably does—I just needed a rich guy’s name), but while I’m okay with prioritising poor people’s needs over buying Ferraris, I’m not okay with prioritising the lives of starving people over the lives of geriatric patients. They’re both in danger and they’re both suffering. Rich or poor doesn’t matter: Any elderly person is just not as healthy as a young one, irrespectively of their wealth, and they’re possibly closer to the grave than a young starved person is. I’m not saying we should prioritise rejuvenation over combating world hunger; I’m saying they’re equally important, and they can and should be fought simultaneously.

Discriminating discriminations

Ah, but I’m neglecting an important factor at play here, am I not? If rejuvenation was only for the rich, that would be discrimination against the poor. You would have right to good health only if you were rich enough, and that would be unjust. It would indeed, and I am the first to say that we need to make sure that equal access to rejuvenation is granted to everyone as soon as possible. That is why we should discuss these topics already now, when rejuvenation is mostly on the drawing board and partly in the lab: We’ve got all the time in the world to make things work out nicely.

To some, however, this is not enough, and they’d sooner have everyone wilt and die than let only the rich benefit from rejuvenation. Sometimes I have the feeling that, in the collective imagination of people, ‘the rich’ are evil incarnate. Are all rich people so bad that they deserve to age to death? Why? And who gets to decide it? Even if not everyone was able to benefit from rejuvenation from the very beginning, as compassionate and caring human beings as we should be, what should we decide about rejuvenation’s fate? That it should be created and save at least some lives in the present, and hopefully every life in the future, or that it should never be created and save no life at all? What about those future generations that we seem to worry about so much in terms of climate change and pollution? They deserve a clean world, but not a disease-free existence?

In case it went unnoticed, the type of discrimination that rejuvenation opposers are trying to fight off with the ‘only the rich’ objection is income/wealth discrimination; the form of discrimination they’re endorsing (whether they realise it or not) is a form of ageism; whatever their reasons may be, whenever people say that rejuvenation should not be developed, they’re saying that elderly people should not have the chance of equally good health as younger people.

Some opposers are not only concerned that rejuvenation would not be available to all; they’re also concerned that being rejuvenated or not might in itself become a discriminating factor. For example, suppose that not everyone wants to undergo rejuvenation treatments and prefer to age and die ‘normally’. What if—I was asked once—an employer denied you a job on these grounds?

This question betrays a lack of understanding of several things—the fact that rejuvenation is not a single-shot therapy that you take now or never, or only once and for all, for example—but anyway the point here is not the answer to this particular concern. The point is that some people seem very concerned about the potential discrimination that rejuvenation might cause, but not very much about the concrete discrimination against elderly people, actually taking place here and now each time we question and postpone the development of comprehensive anti-ageing therapies that could fully restore chronologically old people’s health. While we ponder this and that hypothetical future problem, elderly people suffer from all sorts of ailments.

Equality in a cloak and a scythe

Going back to the ‘for all or for no one’ argument that some people like to make, I wonder if they would still make it if the matter being discussed was something other than rejuvenation. In the case of rejuvenation, they would prefer it not to be developed at all rather than risk unequal access to it. Would they think the same of human rights, for example? Unfortunately, human rights are not respected everywhere. By the ‘for all or for none’ logic, for the sake of avoiding inequality and injustice it would be better to take human rights away from everyone rather than have only some people enjoy this privilege. Even better, perhaps, human rights should never have been invented to begin with. A more fitting example is an evergreen: vaccines. Even today they’re not equally accessible everywhere, let alone when they were first invented. Maybe, if vaccines hadn’t been invented in the first place, we would have experienced less inequality; at the same time, though, a lot of people, rich and poor alike, would have died of infectious diseases before age 2 in the past decades.

Here I’m touching another point that some advocates of ageing like to make: Death is the ‘great equaliser’. If vaccines had not been invented, then not only the poor who could not afford vaccines would die of infectious diseases; everyone would, even the rich. If nothing else, like some authors suggest, the poor can take comfort in the fact that the rich will die too, just like them. If we developed rejuvenation, for example, we’d run the risk of depriving the poor of this ‘comfort’ and would make the world a much too unequal place. I am frankly quite amused at how nonchalantly some people call schadenfreude ‘equality’ or ‘justice’: Be happy, dear poor person, for even if you and your children have suffered many privations, rich people will one day die, just like you will! Wohoo. If that ain’t a reason to throw the wildest party, I don’t know what is.

I would really like to ask a simple question to all the poor people whom the advocates of death like to speak for: Would you rather take the chance that rejuvenation might be available to everyone, including you, or the certainty that both you and all the rich will age to death? I wonder how many would actually find the second option more enticing than the first.