Nanotech Database

Article Title:
Anti-Aging Medicine: Predictions, Moral Obligations, and Biomedical Intervention.

Myktyn, Courtney Everts

Journal Information:
Anthropological Quarterly
Vol. 79, Num. 1


Reversing aging, or anti-aging has recently become a biomedical target and moved into mainstream technologies, supplanting in popular imagination the work that treats age-associated diseases. What are the anthropological precursors, or roots of our predictions? What are the ethical concerns? What would a comparison of claims show? Mykytyn addresses these issues. Predictions, argues Mykytyn, reshape our way of presenting the past, foregrounding a specific problem. Aging is the problem in focus for anti-aging proponents, negating or downplaying the frame around "diseases of the elderly." At least 20 billion dollars are at stake (cf. 12.2 billion on weight control and 22.8 billion on power tools).

There are some scientists who are aligned against the "anti-aging" future -- they see it as bizarrely unhuman, probably only for the rich, and in some cases, patently fraudulent. Proponents say they simply wish to increase the "health-span" of life -- so that aging is not accompanied by debility. Outside of the proponents and opponents within science proper are journals, associations, books and publications in a grey-zone of semi-science. There are regular attempts to curb or prevent anti-aging fraud practiced upon the public. These boundary wars, says Mykytyn, "expose issues of funding and legitimacy."

Nanotechnology is drawn into this debate as leading figures like Ray Kurzweil predict that nanotechnology will expand life-expectancy ("turn off disease and aging"). Others, such as Aubrey de Grey, suggest that the rate of improvements will catch up with us as we are aging, and allow us to take advantage of more and more powerful therapies. Characterizing the field, Mykytyn says "The roadmaps which deal in the biological feasibility embrace a few main threads of hope and scientific practice; they primarily include work in nanotechnology, stem cell therapy, and gene therapy. Similarly, the A4Ms [an anti-aging group] doubling-every-3.5-years-technological knowledge refers to key areas the organization believes to be the most likely to succeed in anti-aging endeavors: genetic engineering and stem cell research, cloning, nanotechnology, artificial organs, and digital cerebral interfacing (wherein even memories can be digitally stored)."

Hucksterism and a sense of natural order prevent the anti-aging science from seeming legitimate or worthy of funding. But aging has come to be seen as a "fixable" problem, worthy of funding, especially as America ages. A moral imperative has entered the debate: we ought to do what we can do. Mykytyn sees these moral imperatives as taking more definite shape. "Perhaps, as the grounding histories become less public than the roadmaps to the future, our triumphing of biotechnology will become an embedded 'fact' of life. Now that the U.S. federal government has taken an active interest in anti-aging medicine and the public has been enchanted (as evidenced both by the swelling financial expenditures on anti-aging products/services and by the attention to anti-aging in popular and scientific press), the imagined future is beginning to take a shadowy but very real shape today and orients our relationship to our collective history."