Should You Invest in Life-Extension Medical Research?

The right to choose to live or to die is the most fundamental right there is; conversely, the duty to give others that opportunity to the best of our ability is the most fundamental duty there is.

Aubrey de Grey

Should you invest in healthy life-extension medical research? Aubrey de Grey thinks that you should. De Grey is a biomedical gerontologist and Co-founder of SENS Research Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity that funds biomedical research into “regenerative medicine to repair the damage underlying the diseases of aging” (About SENS Research Foundation, n.d.). For the past 20 years or so, de Grey has been researching and promoting regenerative medicine solutions to the problem of aging.

In 2007, de Grey published the book Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs that Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime. Ending Aging details how age-related decline and illness could be reversed in the near future if sufficient investments were made in what de Grey calls “SENS” research. SENS (or “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence”) refers to a set of regenerative medicine approaches developed by de Grey which directly target age-related tissue damage at the microscopic level. While some gerontologists believe that the maximum lifespan can be extended through metabolic interventions (Olshansky, 2017; Zorn, 2018), de Grey thinks that metabolism is too complex to be effectively controlled for the foreseeable future. Just as we can keep vintage cars looking and operating like new by repairing broken parts or replacing them with new ones, de Grey points out that we can keep humans in a youthful state indefinitely by periodically removing or repairing damaged tissues at the cellular and molecular levels.

While de Grey’s “SENS” proposal to extend healthy human life remains controversial among gerontologists, SENS Research Foundation’s 30-member expert Advisory Board has endorsed de Grey’s conclusions that,

Recent biotechnological progress indicates that many aspects of aging may indeed be effectively treatable by regenerative medicine in the foreseeable future. We cannot yet know whether all aspects will be, but extensive scrutiny has failed to identify any definite exceptions. Therefore, at this point there is a significant chance that such therapies would postpone age-related decline by several years, if not more, which constitutes a clear case for allocating significant resources to the attempt to develop those therapies. (SENS Research Foundation Research Advisory Board, n.d.)

On this basis, de Grey has argued that Investments in regenerative medicine to extend healthy human life are morally imperative. One of his arguments can be put as follows:

What gives us the right to decide for future generations whether they should or should not live healthily past the age of 120 years? If we refrain from investing in healthy life-extension technologies today because of moral concerns, then we are in effect denying future generations (our children and grandchildren) the right to live healthy lives past our current maximum lifespan. What is considered moral today might be considered loathsome tomorrow, either because circumstances have changed or because values have shifted (Schwitzgebel, 2018). So if we decide today not to implement those technologies because of overriding moral concerns, then we are rationally entitled not to do so, but what we are not rationally entitled to do is to prevent future generations from benefiting from those technologies should they deem them morally obligatory. Therefore, we can have a reasoned debate about whether it would be moral to implement healthy life-extension technologies today (and de Grey has forcefully argued that it is morally obligatory to do so), but what we cannot rationally refrain from doing is investing in healthy life-extension technologies today for the benefit of future generations (our children and grandchildren) should they deem those technologies morally necessary.[1]

This suggests a more general principle of ethics and rational choice: Values and preferences may change over time. Therefore, to the extent that no current values or preferences are violated, a robust decision rule should leave open as many choice opportunities as possible to accommodate future changes in values or preferences.


About SENS Research Foundation (n.d.). SENS Research Foundation. Retrieved April 9, 2021, from

De Grey, A., & Rae, M. (2007). Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Olshansky, S. J. (2017). Is Life Extension Today a Faustian Bargain? Frontiers in Medicine, 4(215), 1–3.

SENS Research Foundation Research Advisory Board (n.d.). SENS Research Foundation. Retrieved April 9, 2021, from

Schwitzgebel, E. (2018, June 30). Will Future Generations Find Us Especially Morally Loathsome? The Splintered Mind.

Wareham, C. S. (2018). What is the ethics of ageing? Journal of Medical Ethics, 44, 128–132.

Zorn, E. (2018, July 13). A 150-year-old human? Neither side is folding in The Great Longevity Wager. Chicago Tribune.

[1] For a helpful introduction to the ethics of ageing, see Wareham (2018).

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