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Vampires 2.0? The ethical quandaries of young blood infusion in the quest for eternal life

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Abstract

Can transfusions of blood plasma slow down ageing or even rejuvenate people? Recent preclinical studies and experimental tests inspired by the technique known as parabiosis have aroused great media attention, although for now there is no clear evidence of their effectiveness. This line of research and the interest it is triggering testify to the prominent role played by the idea of combating the “natural” ageing process in the scientific and social agenda. While seeking to increase the duration of healthy living time may be considered a duty, it also raises ethical questions about how to pursue this goal. Specifically, therapies and techniques accessible only to a fraction of the population seem destined to exponentially increase social inequality and to produce undesirable consequences. In this article we address the issue precisely in the light of the prospected use of plasma for the rejuvenation of a small elite of people.

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Notes

  1. See https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6267506/.

  2. Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2018), Sinclair and LaPlante (2019), Gems (2011), De Grey and Rae (2008).

  3. Bogdanov (1908/1984), Groys and Hagemeister (2005), Zwart (2019).

  4. McCay et al. (1956).

  5. Ludwig and Elashoff (1972).

  6. For a brief history of this strand of research, see Eggel and Wyss-Coray (2014).

  7. Conboy et al. (2005), Mayack et al. (2010), Ruckh et al. (2012).

  8. Elabd et al. (2014).

  9. Franklin et al. (2012).

  10. Katsimpardi et al. (2014).

  11. Loffredo et al. (2013).

  12. Demontis et al. (2014).

  13. Villeda et al. (2014).

  14. Castellano et al. (2017).

  15. Gan and Südhof (2019).

  16. It’s worth noting that ambrosia means food for the Gods. We last checked these data in December 2019.

  17. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/2/19/18232259/fda-young-blood-transfusion-safety-concerns; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/home.

  18. https://www.newsweek.com/2017/07/21/ambrosia-jesse-karmazin-startup-will-give-you-young-blood-reverse-ageing-it-623215.html.

  19. https://www.ivyplasma.com/.

  20. It’s worth noting that Alkahest is a hypothetical "universal solvent" described by the 16th-century alchemist Philippus Paracelsus.

  21. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603242/questionable-young-blood-transfusions-offered-in-us-as-anti-ageing-remedy/.

  22. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/11/blood-young-people-does-little-reverse-alzheimer-s-first-test.

  23. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/08/19/1903438/0/en/Alkahest-Initiates-Phase-2-Clinical-and-Mechanistic-Trial-of-Postoperative-Recovery-Following-Primary-Hip-or-Knee-Arthroplasty.html.

  24. Interestingly, a similar case could arise with the offer of an anti-aging treatment proposed for 1 million dollars by a company based in the United States but operating in Colombia, according to a protocol not made public and apparently not yet tested in a adequate way. As stated by the company, it is a gene therapy aimed at lengthening an individual's telomeres in order to rejuvenate 20 years, Emily Mullin, OneZero, December 5, 2019, https://onezero.medium.com/scientists-dodge-fda-to-offer-in-1-million-anti-aging-treatment-in-columbia-38756dfb3ad1.

  25. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fountain-of-youth-young-blood-infusions-ldquo-rejuvenate-rdquo-old-mice/https://www.statnews.com/2018/03/02/young-blood-anti-ageing-study/https://theconversation.com/young-blood-magic-or-medicine-88956.

  26. Garasic and Lavazza (2017).

  27. Jonas (1992).

  28. Arendt (1958).

  29. Snyder and Cohen (2019).

  30. Cf. Titmuss (1970), Savulescu (2003).

  31. Maslen et al. (2015).

  32. The theory of exploitation is famously highlighted by Marx in his Capital. For him, every commodity is only a crystallization of human labour, a generic human working capacity that takes various forms (from clothes to books). The socially necessary labour time to produce a good is what gives its exchange value. If a hat is as good as two belts, this means that the socially necessary labour time to produce a hat is twice that required to produce a belt. What is exchanged in buying and selling is generic human work, “abstract” work that gradually takes on the most disparate phenomenal forms. Forms that—in recent bioethical debates—have included our biological body, with examples such as surrogate motherhood and organ donation. Here, one might want to extend her attention to human blood. Notably, Marx used vampires as a metaphor for exploitation. For example, he writes: “Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks”, Marx (1867/1976).

  33. Di Paola and Garasic (2013).

  34. Farrelly (2016).

  35. Singer. (1972).

  36. Farrelly (2016), p.40.

  37. Ibid., p.40, fn. 1.

  38. Olshansky et al. (1998).

  39. Butler (1969).

  40. Rawls (1971).

  41. Daniels (1985).

  42. Dworkin (2003).

  43. Abbott (2019).

  44. Fahy et al. (2019).

  45. Cf. Sen (2010), Milanovic (2018), Atkinson (2015).

  46. Scanlon (2018).

  47. It should be noted that such “elites” are already among us. In fact, in some cases, the “anti-ageing industry” is far from being shy in advertising that top athletes such as Tiger Woods or Rafa Nadal benefit from the use of platelet-rich plasma therapy to recover faster from an injury or just improve their athletic longevity. See for example: https://antiagewellness.com/platelet-rich-plasma-therapy/.

  48. Savulescu (2005).

  49. Buchanan (2011).

  50. Emanuel et al. (2000).

  51. Obviously, egalitarian objectives do not find unambiguous consensus. Take, for example, the recent proposal to accept, albeit in a regulated form, income differences that favour the most affluent in accessing innovative treatments. “The suggestion of the Plutocratic Proposal is that any donor who rescues a potential therapeutic agent from neglect by funding necessary clinical trials (either entirely or in large part) should be offered a place on the trial. The donor can choose either to participate herself or to award the trial place to any other suitable patient: a friend, relative or stranger”, Masters and Nutt (2017).

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Lavazza, A., Garasic, M. Vampires 2.0? The ethical quandaries of young blood infusion in the quest for eternal life. Med Health Care and Philos 23, 421–432 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11019-020-09952-5

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