Life Extension, A Mormon Transhumanist View
IMAGE: PHOTO OF TREE AND SUNLIGHT
Life extension is the idea of prolonging life — ideally vigorous and healthy life — well beyond current life expectancy rates. Even accounting for the dramatic improvement in infant mortality rates worldwide, average life expectancy has increased by 17-24 years in the U.S. alone since the beginning of the 20th century. Worldwide, the effect has been even greater. Along with decreasing birth rates, this has resulted in an increasing proportion of the elderly, raising the visibility of aging-related disease.
Life extension is the quest to overcome the effects of aging to allow people to live healthy lives to well over 100. In its ultimate form, life extension could be enabling the body to prolong healthy life indefinitely. People could live as long as they wanted, barring accidental death.
What is a common Mormon perspective on life extension?
Common Mormon views on life extension are influenced by several scripturally-based ideas that are sometimes in tension with one another.
For example, the Doctrine & Covenants promises that infants born during Christ's millennial reign will live to "the age of a tree" — and some trees can live over 4000 years. Similarly, the Book of Mormon describes three of Jesus' disciples, who wished to have their own lives extended indefinitely, as "more blessed" than those who would live only 72 years. These passages, along with a view of mortal physical embodiment as a step toward becoming like God, correlate with a positive perspective on life extension.
On the other hand, scriptures describing the mortal condition as a "probationary state" ended by death and subsequent resurrection, along with the Eden story describing a fallen Adam & Eve being prevented from eating from the tree of life, are sometimes interpreted in opposition to life extension.
What is your perspective on life extension?
I have interests in so many different areas and such a seemingly insatiable appetite for learning and new experiences that indefinite life extension seems undeniably good to me. This would be the case if I were capable of pursuing those interests. If I were in such poor health that I could not learn or experience in a satisfying way, life extension would lose its appeal.
It also seems that the solutions to health problems that would need to be developed in order to realize this goal would have a tremendously positive impact on quality of life at earlier ages as well. From a theological perspective, I can't see any problems with indefinite life extension that don't equally apply to a resurrected state (for which indefinite life extension is the common expectation). One important concern I have is that the opportunity for life extension be extended equitably.