Skip to main content

How Can Aging Be Thought of as Anything Other Than a Disease?

  • Reference work entry
  • First Online:
Handbook of the Philosophy of Medicine

Abstract

Unless one is so concerned about the social or economic consequences of doing so, it is hard to see why aging ought not be characterized as a disease. The changes associated with aging, unlike those associated with growth and sexual maturation, are manifestly dysfunctional. The causes of the dysfunctional changes that fuel senescence are clearly rooted in the loss, collapse, or deterioration of cellular functions. These in turn are caused by wear and tear over time on cells, genetic mutations, buildup of toxic substances, and programmed cell death. While these changes are universal and beset all humans, to not describe them as disease is simply to sugarcoat the many dysfunctions of aging as “natural.” The fact that they occur for almost all people at advanced ages does not make them any less dysfunctional relative to the experience of the individual in terms of “symptoms” or the overall ability of the person beset by these changes to flourish and survive. Aging is a disease. The only interesting question is whether we choose to do anything to treat it.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Institutional subscriptions

References

  • Blakemore C (2012) Life extension: “Moral obligation” or “a disaster for humanity and the planet? http://frontierpsychiatrist.co.uk/life-extension/

  • Boorse C (1975) On the distinction between illness and disease. Phil Public Affairs 5:49–68

    Google Scholar 

  • Boorse C (1977) Health as a theoretical concept. Philos Sci 46:557–561

    Google Scholar 

  • Cabreiro F, Gems D (2011) Treating aging: progress toward dietary restriction mimetics. Biol Rep 2:76

    Google Scholar 

  • Callahan D (2013) On dying after your time. NY Times

    Google Scholar 

  • Caplan AL (1976) Ethics, evolution, and the milk of human kindness. Hastings Cent Rep 6:20–25

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caplan AL (2005) Death as an unnatural process. EMBO Rep 6(1):72–75

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caplan AL (2014) Ethical implications of drugs for erectile dysfunction. JAMA Virtual Mentor 16:928–931

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Faragher R, Sheerin A, Ostler E (2009) Can we intervene in human ageing? Expert Rev Mol Med 11:e27. doi:10.1017/S1462399409001197

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fukuyama F (2002) Our posthuman future. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Fulop T, Larbi A, Witkowski JM, McElhaney J, Loeb M, Mitnitski A et al (2010) Aging, frailty and age-related diseases. Biogerontology 11:547–563

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ghiselin MT (1974) The economy of nature and the evolution of sex. University of California Press, Berkeley

    Google Scholar 

  • Goldberg S (1975) What is “normal”? Logical aspects of the question of homosexual behavior. Psychiatry 38:227–243

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hausman DB (1975) What is natural? Perspect Biol Med 19:92–101

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heiss G, Wallace R, Anderson GL et al (2008) Health risks and benefits 3 years after stopping randomized treatment with estrogen and progestin. JAMA 299(9):1036–1045

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herndon LA, Schmeissner PJ, Dudaronek JM, Brown PA, Listner KM, Sakano Y, Paupard MC, Hall DH, Driscoll M (2002) Stochastic and genetic factors influence tissue-specific decline in ageing C. elegans. Nature 419:808–814

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Illich I (1974) The political uses of natural death. Studies Hast Center 2:3–20

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kass LR (2002) Life, liberty and the defense of dignity. Encounter Books, San Francisco

    Google Scholar 

  • Lopez-Otin C, Blasco MA, Partridge L, Serrano M, Kroemer G (2013) The hallmarks of aging. Cell 153(6):1194–1217

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meilaender G (2002) Genes as resources. Hedgehog Rev, Fall, www.virginia.edu/iasc/hedgehog.html

  • Pijnenburg MAM, Leget C (2007) Who wants to live forever? J Med Ethics 33(10):585–587

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scheidel W (2001) Debating roman demography. Brill, Leiden

    Google Scholar 

  • Schramme T (2013) ’I hope that I get old before I die': ageing and the concept of disease. Theor Med Bioeth 34:171–187

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Socarides CW (1970) Homosexuality and medicine. JAMA 212:1199–1202

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weismann A (1891) Essays upon heredity and kindred biological problems. Clarendon, Oxford, UK

    Google Scholar 

  • WHO (1994) WHO assessment of fracture risk and its application to screening for postmenopausal osteoporosis. WHO Technical Report Series 843. WHO, Geneva, Switzerland, 1994

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams GC (1966) Adaptation and natural selection. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Arthur Caplan .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2017 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht

About this entry

Cite this entry

Caplan, A. (2017). How Can Aging Be Thought of as Anything Other Than a Disease?. In: Schramme, T., Edwards, S. (eds) Handbook of the Philosophy of Medicine. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-8688-1_10

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics