AC Grayling: Will this step towards a longer life create yet another divide in our society?

Share
Related Topics

Discovering the genes that may contribute towards longevity is a step towards making us all live longer. Future human beings are going to have a very different perspective on the definition of a human life – it will take a different shape.

There is huge promise in this type of genetic research. If it helps us to cure or detect diseases, to tackle life-threatening problems, then it would be very useful and powerful knowledge to have.

Of course there are challenging aspects to this research. We have yet to answer serious questions such as: Where do we stop? What kind of research do we not need? What sort of things do we really not want to know?

But we should never underestimate the human capacity to cope with bad news. If I found out that I would only live to, say, 60 or 90 and everyone else was going to live to 150, would I be able to cope with it? Of course I would, eventually.

It would be horrible to begin with. I'd moan and groan. But one would adjust and we cope with it. In itself, it is not a reason to get frightened, stop this research too soon and hide your head in the sand.

We all live under the life sentence of death but we have evolved not to think about it. There's a great deal to be said for all the natural uncertainties that human beings have lived with. We shape our lives around the belief that we are all going to be healthy and live a long time. That's only true for actually quite a small proportion of us. But that's the premise we work with.

When someone employs us, when someone insures us, when we make plans for the future, when we have children, we are assuming the best scenario.

If we adjusted our lives according to the possibility that we could be knocked down by a bus tomorrow it would be anarchy: we would never get anything done. We'd never team up with anyone. We'd never plan a family.

One issue in all this that poses a serious dilemma is: what if third parties like employers or insurance companies began to discriminate against people on the basis of their genetic makeup?

There is a danger, particularly in the next few years as this knowledge trickles out in partial dribs and drabs, that third parties begin to use it against us.

We have to ask ourselves what we are going to do about it and how are we going to manage it because we don't want people being discriminated against.

You also have to ask yourself who will benefit from this kind of knowledge. Throughout human history there has always been the haves and the have-nots. That division still exists now, most familiarly in the form of the rich and poor divide.

Will knowledge of our genetic make-up one day create another divide? Those who have access to gene therapy, longer life or wider knowledge of their genetic makeup are going to be in a far stronger position compared to those who don't have that knowledge.

It could become another wedge to drive people apart.

* AC Grayling, professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, was speaking to Jerome Taylor.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road