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Life extension, overpopulation and the right to life: against lethal ethics
  1. D E Cutas
  1. Dr D E Cutas, Philosophy Department, University of Gothenburg, Box 100, SE 405 30 Sweden; daniela.cutas{at}


Some of the objections to life-extension stem from a concern with overpopulation. I will show that whether or not the overpopulation threat is realistic, arguments from overpopulation cannot ethically demand halting the quest for, nor access to, life-extension. The reason for this is that we have a right to life, which entitles us not to have meaningful life denied to us against our will and which does not allow discrimination solely on the grounds of age. If the threat of overpopulation creates a rights conflict between the right to come into existence, the right to reproduce, the right to more opportunities and space (if, indeed, these rights can be successfully defended), and the right to life, the latter ought to be given precedence.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • i As More4 explains, correlating life extension treatments with improving access to healthcare and education for contraception may well have better overall results than refusing to treat old age diseases for fear that people will live too long and crowd the planet.

  • ii And, as points out gerontologist Tom Kirkwood,9 research in the US shows that whilst we live longer and longer, the period of disability at the end of life is getting shorter, and that therefore “the health span may be lengthening even more than the life span”. In her book, Overall5 also discusses the matter of the dependency of the old (pp208–11).

  • iii I thank an anonymous reviewer of the journal for pointing this out to me.

  • iv For example, by Woods J Engineered death, cited in Overall5 (p137). Woods’ proposal is that we might have to set “some definite upper limit on the duration of one’s right to life”. For discussions of the tension between life extension and reproduction, see also Overall (pp137–40), Harris12 (pp76–7), More4 (pp169–85) and Kirkwood9 (pp243–56).

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