What are the ethical consequences of immortality technology?

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Detail from The Fountain of Youth (1546) by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Courtesy Wikipedia

Immortality has gone secular. Unhooked from the realm of gods and angels, it’s now the subject of serious investment – both intellectual and financial – by philosophers, scientists and the Silicon Valley set. Several hundred people have already chosen to be ‘cryopreserved’ in preference to simply dying, as they wait for science to catch up and give them a second shot at life. But if we treat death as a problem, what are the ethical implications of the highly speculative ‘solutions’ being mooted?

Of course, we don’t currently have the means of achieving human immortality, nor is it clear that we ever will. But two hypothetical options have so far attracted the most interest and attention: rejuvenation technology, and mind uploading.

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Cambridge scientists reverse ageing process in rat brain stem cells

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Aged rat brain stem cells grown on a soft surface (right) show more healthy, vigorous growth than similar aged brain stem cells grown on a stiff surface (left)

New research reveals how increasing brain stiffness as we age causes brain stem cell dysfunction, and demonstrates new ways to reverse older stem cells to a younger, healthier state.

…when the old brain cells were grown on the soft material, they began to function like young cells – in other words, they were rejuvenated

The results, published today in Nature, have far-reaching implications for how we understand the ageing process, and how we might develop much-needed treatments for age-related brain diseases.

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