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Ageing gene ethics under scrutiny: The British Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting

INSURANCE companies could use gene tests to check whether clients will live long enough to pay off their mortgages, a leading scientist warned yesterday, writes Susan Watts.

Such ethical concerns would become increasingly pertinent if people lived beyond today's 115-year maximum, Gerry Shaper, Emeritus Professor at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London, told the annual British Association meeting.

His warning came after Professor Grimley Evans, from Oxford University's division of gerontology, told the meeting that developments in genetics and other fields mean that some people might live up to 150 years.

Professor Shaper compared work on identifying 'ageing genes' with recent research on links between homosexuality and genetic make-up.

'What are the insurance companies going to do (if) you have a gene that means you aren't going to see your mortgage expectancy through?'

Professor Evans said there was an urgent need for a debate on the ethical and social consequences of an increased lifespan. 'It is timely to think about it so that we don't get taken by surprise if scientific dreams become reality.'