Background paper

Longevity

By Dr Hans-Jörg Ehni, Deputy Director, Institute for Ethics and History of Medicine, University of Tübingen, Germany

Executive summary

For the first time, interventions to slow physical ageing are within reach. This background
paper examines a possible increase in longevity and its potential ethical implications. The
current situation is presented as follows:

  • Several interventions have successfully slowed ageing, prevented or postponed age associated diseases, and prolonged the life span of animals in laboratory settings.
  • Biogerontologists are confident that their knowledge and methods can be applied to
    humans. They present these methods as a new paradigm for medicine.
  • Clinical trials of some interventions are already underway.
  • The primary goal would be to prevent age-associated diseases by slowing ageing, but
    as a corollary, longevity is likely to increase as well.

This background paper describes the possible increase of longevity achieved by slowing
biological ageing as a ‘second longevity revolution’. The ‘first longevity revolution’ refers to the increase of longevity since the middle of the 19th Century. One of the results of these revolutions in longevity is the phenomenon of ‘population ageing’, and its associated implications. It is important that biogerontology and its application to medicine is analysed and evaluated in this broader context.

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Previous work

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