Anti-Aging is not Necessarily Anti-Death: Bioethics and the Front Lines of Practice
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- Mykytyn, C.E. Medicine Studies (2009) 1: 209. doi:10.1007/s12376-009-0026-4
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Anti-aging medicine has emerged in the past two decades as both a medical practice and scientific objective largely aimed at intervening into the process of aging itself rather than its “associated” diseases. This has provoked a both excitement and concern in bioethical deliberations on the meaning and potential impact of an effective intervention. In this article, I examine the different ways in which bioethicists, other social scientists, and anti-aging proponents frame anti-aging goals, in particular, the construction of immortality as its implicit and explicit aim. This research is based upon over 9 years of anthropological, ethnographic interview- and observation-based research in the field and draws substantially from the US President’s Council on Bioethics’ deliberations on this topic as well as from interview data and other publications/discussion on anti-aging medicine. I argue that while the framework of life and death provide the primary structure for many bioethical and social science critiques of anti-aging medicine, many if not most anti-aging practitioners, researchers, and advocates employ the alternative structure of health and pain to orient their work. These divergent orientations of life/death and health/pain beget competing conversations around anti-aging medicine; including voices from the front lines of anti-aging practice complicate bioethical critiques and ultimately beg different questions. Positioning the painful, physiological decline of aging as the ultimate adversary rather than death challenges traditional models of biomedical intervention based on “nature” and “disease” constructions.