Substantial Life Extension and the Fair Distribution of Healthspans

J Med Philos. 2016 Oct;41(5):521-39. doi: 10.1093/jmp/jhw021. Epub 2016 Jul 26.


One of the strongest objections to the development and use of substantially life-extending interventions is that they would exacerbate existing unjust disparities of healthy lifespans between rich and poor members of society. In both popular opinion and ethical theory, this consequence is sometimes thought to justify a ban on life-prolonging technologies. However, the practical and ethical drawbacks of banning receive little attention, and the viability of alternative policies is seldom considered. Moreover, where ethicists do propose alternatives, there is scant effort to consider their merits in light of developing world priorities. In response to these shortcomings, I distinguish four policy options and, on the basis of a plausible intuition about fairness, evaluate their implications for a fair distribution of healthy lifespans. I claim that even in developing nations it would be fairest to favor policies that promote equal access to at least one promising category of substantially life-extending intervention: calorie restriction mimetics.

Keywords: ageing; calorie restriction; enhancement; ethics; fair innings; fairness; justice; life extension; slowed ageing.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Bioethical Issues
  • Caloric Restriction*
  • Developing Countries
  • Health Care Rationing / ethics*
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy*
  • Policy