Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 645–649

The Tortoise Transformation as a Prospect for Life Extension

Original Research


The value of extending the human lifespan remains a key philosophical debate in bioethics. In building a case against the extension of the species-typical human life, Nicolas Agar considers the prospect of transforming human beings near the end of their lives into Galapagos tortoises, which would then live on decades longer. A central question at stake in this transformation is the persistence of human consciousness as a condition of the value of the transformation. Agar entertains the idea that consciousness could persist in some measure, but he thinks little is to be gained from the transformation because the experiences available to tortoises pale in comparison to those available to human beings. Moreover, he thinks persisting human consciousness and values would degrade over time, being remade by tortoise needs and environment. The value available in the transformation would not, then, make the additional years of life desirable. Agar’s account does not, however, dispose of the tortoise transformation as a defensible preference. Some people might still want this kind of transformation for symbolic reasons, but it would probably be better that no human consciousness persist, since that consciousness would be inexpressible as such. Even so, it is not irrational to prefer various kinds of lifespan extension even if they involve significant modifications to human consciousness and values.


Ageing Ethics Life extension Senescence Tortoises 


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medical Education m/c 591, 808 S. Wood St.University of Illinois College of Medicine at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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