My following article below was originally published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET):
On November 1, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard took medication to end her life. This wasn’t an act of cowardice, nor due to some psychological condition. She ended her life because she wanted to die on her own terms, rather than suffer the eventually-fatal torment of terminal brain cancer. Her ability to legally commit suicide – or what she referred to it as “death with dignity” – was due to the state of Oregon’s “Death With Dignity Act.”
As a result, the entire nation is starting to talk about the right-to-die, or what is also commonly referred to as physician-assisted suicide. This isn’t even a new idea, either. Indeed, this very topic was heavily debated and talked about throughout the country nearly 20 years ago after Dr. Jack Kevorkian was arrested for providing voluntary euthanasia for his terminal patients.
Dr. Kevorkian became a revolutionary to one section of the population, and the devil incarnate to the other. In fact, to this day, only 4 states out of 50 have officially legalized physician-assisted suicide (Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Montana), following Dr. Kevorkian’s footsteps in providing the moral alternative for terminally ill patients.
But the tides could be turning in Dr. Kevorkian’s – and, yes, even Brittany Maynard’s – favor, as Brittany became the face and voice of a modern day “Death with Dignity.” Because of her sacrifice, in the coming years more and more terminally ill people may very well be legally allowed to die on their own terms.
So where should Transhumanists and Longevity advocates stand on this particular topic? At first glance, one would assume that we Transhumanists would oppose suicide, given its clear conflict with that of longevity – a cause in which most Transhumanists are dedicated to. After all, one of our goals is to achieve indefinite life extension, or as Dr. Aubrey de Grey calls it negligible senescence. And for someone to commit suicide would be to give up on life – an act contrary to that of a Transhumanist.
But then this assumption is erroneous, for it subsequently bases itself on another false assumption: that Transhumanists seek immortality.
We’ve heard it, time and again, by anti-Transhumanist intellectuals and otherwise. Read it throughout the web, from newspapers to blogs. We Transhumanists are on a fool’s journey to achieve immortality. And yet, speaking as a fellow Transhumanist, I must come as a bearer of bad news to them: we do not seek immortality. In fact, immortality is a red herring of what we’re actually hoping to achieve – indefinite life extension.
But what is the difference? If life is indefinitely extended, have you not achieved immortality? Not quite. The idea of immortality is the incapability of death, for if someone is capable of dying, they’re deemed mortal. In other words, immortality is a very authoritarian bond over the human will to make choices of their own. With indefinite life extension – the ability to remain young and healthy; to not age – we’re giving each individual the right to decide how long they wish to live, with the subsequent right to live indefinitely if they so wish.
Unfortunately, many anti-Transhumanists and anti-longevity thinkers refuse to comprehend this simple understanding, and instead criticize indefinite life extension with nonsensical justifications – overpopulation, becoming bored, loss of resources, and so on. Either they adhere to neo-Luddism or Malthusian logical fallacies.
Which brings us back to the topic of suicide. For Dr. Kevorkian, whenever a patient was medically diagnosed with a terminal illness, he knew there were only two options said patient could opt for: either they remained alive long enough to suffer until death relieved them of their pain, or they choose to die on their own terms, rather than suffer needlessly. Death was no longer dictated by a person’s biological clock, but instead became a choice for each individual to decide.
And yet 46 states of the U.S. maintain a policy of criminalizing physician-assisted suicide. For Transhumanists and Longevity advocates, this should be very worrisome. After all, our quest to achieve indefinite life extension is merely an added chapter to Dr. Kevorkian’s book of right-to-die. We’re simply adding “-or-live” to the end of it. Speaking as a Transhumanist myself, despite my advocacy of indefinite life extension and support for anti-aging research, I also support right-to-die.
This is something in which all of us Transhumanists and Longevity advocates must comprehend: if we support the right of individuals to decide how long they wish to live, rather than be dictated by their biological clocks, then we must equally support the right of individuals to decide when they wish to die.
In essence, the goal of a Transhumanist and Longevity advocate is to ensure that all future deaths are suicides.
“If you don’t have liberty and self-determination, you got nothing. That’s what this country’s built on and this is the ultimate self-determination: to determine when and how you’re gonna die when you’re suffering.” – Dr. Jack Kevorkian