Genome Editing for Longer Lives: The Problem of Loneliness

Abstract

The development of gene-editing technologies, such as the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and associated Cas9 endonuclease (CRISPR/Cas9) system, coincides with a rapidly expanding knowledge of the role of genes in the human ageing process. This raises the prospect that, in addition to the treatment of genetic diseases and disorders, it may become possible to use gene-editing technologies to alter the ageing process and significantly extend the maximum human lifespan. Germline editing poses distinctive problems due to its implications for individual members of future, unborn generations. In this essay, I wish to home in, narrowly, on a single ethical objection to extending the lifespan of future generations by editing the human germline. The objection suggests that to extend lifespans is to unethically inflict the harm of loneliness on future people. I claim that the argument rests on assumptions that ought to be rejected.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.

  2. 2.

    Thanks to Rafael Winkler for this point.*

  3. 3.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this point.

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Acknowledgements

I am very grateful for feedback provided during presentations to the Department of Philosophy at the University of Johannesburg, and to the National Health Laboratory Service and the Division of Human Genetics at the University of the Witwatersrand. Thanks in particular to Thaddeus Metz for extremely helpful contributions to this and other work.

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Wareham, C.S. Genome Editing for Longer Lives: The Problem of Loneliness. Bioethical Inquiry 17, 309–314 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-020-09967-w

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Keywords

  • Ageing ethics
  • Life extension
  • Gene-editing
  • Enhancement
  • Loneliness