Life-extension and the Malthusian Objection

J Med Philos. 2005 Feb;30(1):27-44. doi: 10.1080/03605310590907048.


Dramatically extending the human lifespan seems increasingly possible. Many bioethicists object that life-extension will have Malthusian consequences as new Methuselahs accumulate, generation by generation. I argue for a Life-Years Response to the Malthusian Objection. If even a minority of each generation chooses life-extension, denying it to them deprives them of many years of extra life, and their total extra life-years are likely to exceed the total life-years of a majority who do not want life-extension. This is a greater harm to those who want extended life than the Malthusian harms to those who refuse extended life, both because losing an extra year of life is worse than enduring a year of Malthusian conditions, and because the would-be Methuselahs have more life-years at stake. Therefore, even if life-extension seems likely to cause severe overcrowding and resource shortages, that threat is not sufficient to justify society in restricting the development or availability of life-extension.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethical Issues*
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy*
  • Longevity* / ethics
  • Population Dynamics*
  • Public Policy
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years