Mixed views about radical life extension
Keywords:Radical life extension ethics, online deliberative survey, cultural values
Background: Recent studies on public attitudes toward life extension technologies show a mix of ambivalence toward and support for extending the human lifespan (Partridge 2009; Dragojlovic 2013; Funk et al. 2013). Attitudes toward genetic modification of organisms and technological enhancements may be used to categorize individuals according to political or ideological orientation such as technoprogressive or conservative (Hughes 2010) and it could be easy to assume that these categories are related to more general categorizations related to culture, e.g. between Traditional and Secular-rational values in the World Values Survey (Ingelhart & Welzel 2010). This paper discusses how attitudes toward aspects of radical life extension may be related to cultural values as revealed in an online deliberative survey among university students conducted between January 2012 to January 2013. Survey results suggest that attitudes toward radical life extension tend to be mixed among groups categorized as Traditional, Secular-rational, Survivalist, and Self-expressionist. The study explored the relation between responses of 326 university students to 5 key questions on radical life extension (RLE) and the cultural values they tend to favor as indicated by their response to 20 statements from the World Values Survey.
Design and Method: The survey consisted of 3 stages: an online pre-discussion survey, face-to-face discussion, and post-discussion survey. After completing the 5 main survey questions in stage 1, participants were presented two additional questionnaires: one on cultural attitudes using 20 statements from the 2004-2008 World Values Survey (WVS) and another on health attitudes with 12 statements from Dutta-Bergman’s 2004 study. In stage 2, participants were engaged in a face-to-face discussion in class focusing on their responses to the five key questions. After the discussion, they were invited to reconsider the choices and reasons they posted in stage 1 in the light of the face-to-face class discussion in stage 2.
Results: Responses to the five survey questions showed that there tended to be more individuals across groups who disagreed with adopting technologies that radically extend the human lifespan beyond the current limit of 120 years. Attitudes toward radical life extension did not correspond to cultural attitudes indicated by responses to the WVS questions. The proportion of agreement/disagreement to statements presented in each of the five questions varied across cultural groups and there tended to be more individuals who disagreed with radical life extension in all groups. Changes in responses after the discussion stage were not significant and most respondents maintained their prior views.
Discussion: Cultural attitudes associated with familiar technologies may not correspond with attitudes toward newer technologies since beliefs and values may need to be adapted to new imagined situations that the new technologies elicit. Moral understandings associated with familiar technological habits and beliefs are not necessarily carried over to new technologies.