Anti-ageing and the scientific avoidance of death. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

1 / 28
About This Presentation

Anti-ageing and the scientific avoidance of death.


Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers!) About Living Forever, ... The market serves as both source of capital and as outlet for consumer products. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

Number of Views:102
Avg rating:3.0/5.0
Slides: 29
Provided by: John4309


Transcript and Presenter's Notes

Title: Anti-ageing and the scientific avoidance of death.

Anti-ageing and the scientific avoidance of
  • John A. Vincent
  • Egenis Seminar Presentation
  • 2nd February 2010

Structure of the presentation
  1. Outline the problem how to understand the
    cultural devaluation of old age.
  2. Comparative material from anthropology and
    history locate unique features of contemporary
    construction of age and death.
  3. Use Roses work to think about the consequences
    of the biologisation of old age and death.

Time and the boundaries of old age
  • Old age defined by end of middle age and the
    onset of death
  • Cultural construction of life stage is dependent
    on cultural ideas of time and of death

Cultural construction of time
  • Types of time
  • Western arrow of time
  • Hindu round of time
  • Australian Dream time

Anthropology of ageing and death
  • Key analyses in this literature describe the way
    societies understand and manage the transition
    from the world of the living to the world of the
  • One theme is that of social transition and looks
    at inheritance of property and resources, and the
    succession of statuses from one generation to the
  • Another theme is that of symbol and ritual,
    including the way different communities give
    meaning to this transition through recreating
    collective or individual identities

Selected examples
  • Dinka,
  • Mardu, and
  • Madagascar

Celine Lafontaine La Société Post-Mortelle
  • For Lafontaine the key factors in understanding
    modern attitudes to death - what she calls the
    post-mortal society are
  • individualisation (existential meaning is only to
    be found in individuals not collectivities) and
  • de-symbolisation (the lack of ritual and
    symbolic meanings for death).

Nikolas Rose - The Politics of Life Itself
  • The main thesis of this work is that in the
    contemporary world at the start of the 21st
    century the way life itself has come to be
    understood has changed.
  • It has been biologised and reconstructed to lie
    at the sub-cellular and molecular level.
  • The advances in bio-chemistry and the
    understanding of genetics and cell science have
    atomised the biology of life into a string of
    complex genetically induced cascade of complex

Politics of death itself
  • We can take this idea about the changing
    understanding of life and apply it to death.
  • If life has been biologised, fragmented, reduced
    to a bio-chemical essence and rendered political
    by new potentialities for control, then so too
    has death.
  • This is the realm of anti-ageing science.

Anti-ageing and the avoidance of death
  • In other work I have classified anti-ageing
    phenomena into four types.
  • Firstly there is an approach in which ageing is
    the appearance of old age, a phenomena of the
    bodys surface. This anti-ageing is thus cosmetic
    in intention.
  • The second approach is to consider ageing to be a
    disease to be tackled by medical strategies with
    the intention of cure. Ageing from this
    perspective is a phenomenon of the body interior.
  • The third view of ageing is that it is a
    fundamental biological process particularly
    located in the intra cellular bio-chemistry.
    Biological anti-ageing strategies seek to modify
    these processes by manipulation of cell
  • And fourthly, for some ageing is death. These
    anti-ageing activities aim to achieve
    immortality, or at least something close to it.

Managing death in the post-mortal world
  • The policing and control of life, implies the
    same processes for death. Not only in the sense
    of avoiding death and prolonging life, but
    dealing with the inevitable fact of death.
  • For all the culturally enwrapped denial, we all
    still die, and this fact has to be managed. The
    extent of the denial makes this a difficult task.
    As Lafontaine points out, death has been removed
    from the world of symbol, ritual and meaning and
    turned into a mundane biological fact. As such,
    without its sacred quality and apparently subject
    to technical biological analysis and control, it
    creates new problems of management.

Key processes
  • Rose suggests five process through which to
    understand changes to the politics of life
    itself. We can look at these in turn and examine
    what they mean for death in the post-mortal
    world. They are
  • molecularisation,
  • optimization,
  • subjectification,
  • somatic expertise, and
  • the economics of vitality.

The final stage of apoptosis cleaning up after
the death
  • According to Rose, the essential vitality which
    animates life is now seen as a molecular process.
    Molecularisation, or at least modern cell
    science, has profoundly influenced contemporary
    understanding of death. Cell death apoptosis
    and senescence.
  • The biology text books and popular science media
    habitually describe apoptosis as cell suicide.
    Sometimes they call it murder (when the cell
    responds to external stimuli but I have only
    found one case where it is referred to as
    euthanasia). However, apoptosis is clearly good
    death. Its death at the right time and the right
    place is a necessary and desirable outcome.

Old age at the cell level
  • On the other hand senescence is the cell in old
    age. The metaphor is a powerful one even if the
    belief that there is a specific direct link to
    organism ageing is contentious.
  • Historically in biology the meaning of senescence
    has shifted from specific form of decline, loss
    of efficient function in all aspects, including
    the accumulation of junk, to being used
    specifically in the sense of replicative
    senescence - the cessation of mitosis (cell
  • Even at the cellular level old age is imaged as

  • life is no longer simply constrained within the
    parameters of health and illness, but that it can
    be manipulated in order to optimise such features
    as intelligence or longevity. He links these
    developments to a stress on functionality -
    enhancing the bodys ability to perform what the
    individual desires from it.
  • Death is seen as the ultimate loss of
    functionality. Optimization requires the body to
    overcome time and function for ever thus avoiding
    old age and death.
  • Stem cell research holds out the possibility of
    replacing worn out or failed bits of the body by
    growing genetically matched replacements to be
    transplanted as the need arises. Cloning
    technology not only offers the prospect of
    cloning your favourite pet so it is replaced by a
    genetically identical substitute, it offers the
    possibility of reproducing yourself.
  • Post-human aspirations

  • Roses third theme is that of subjectificaton
    and the individuals responsibility for body
    management. the politics of life itself in his
    title refers to the development of a
    biocitizenship with rights and duties for life,
    body and risk. He suggests this creates somatic
    ethics not ethics as moral precepts but as
    values about the conduct of a life placing the
    body and its management at the centre.
  • Death becomes someones fault, perhaps the
    individual who did not look after themselves
    properly, perhaps the expert who failed to
    prevent death from a specific disease. The
    prologeviste movement, those striving for
    immortality take this position to the logical
    conclusion, death is the ultimate failure, the
    final sin/ dereliction of an individual.
  • From this perspective ageing becomes the fault of
    the individual. It is slackers, morally culpable
    people who do not follow the best practices of
    healthy living that will lose out on immortality
    and die.

somatic expertise
  • the rights and responsibilities of others for
    biological control over our bodies.
  • He identifies a professionalisation of expertise
    concerning the body. There is a proliferation of
    sub-branches of biology and bio-chemistry and
    specialisms which control the technical expertise
    of these sciences.
  • There is also professionalization of the pastoral
    response to life and death, experts who offer
    counselling and advice on how individuals should
    manage grief.
  • Rose notes bioethics as a new discipline in
    which people claim expertise with which to
    legitimate research and medical activities.
  • Rose analysis thus directs us to look at death
    managers and death avoidance experts and the role
    they play in policing death.
  • We can divide policing death into two kinds,
    policing the dead and policing the survivors.

Policing the dead
  • Historically policing the dead was the apparatus
    of church and religion, the proper processing of
    souls to pass from this world to the next. In the
    modern secular world is becomes a health issue,
    hygienic disposal of corpses through properly
    sanctioned crematoria and prohibition of bodily
    disposal in any but authorised sites.
  • The post-mortal society creates new dilemmas
    and institutions in the policing of the dead.
    There are those who seek immortality through
    revival of the corpse when science has progressed
    to perform such miracles, in other words
    entrusting their body to future life and death

cyronics industry
  • The most well developed of these is the cyronics
    industry with active facilities in both USA and
    Russia. Despite the absence of current to
    technology for thawing out and resuscitating
    those that have chosen this method of bodily
    disposal, faith in the progress in science is
    felt to justify such procedures.
  • An essential feature of cryonics is the location
    of the individual, the persona, personality, in
    the body, indeed in the brain, and that the
    preservation of the chemical constituents will
    preserve the essence of the person.
  • Such a radical approach challenges a number of
    our key institutions, the legal system recognises
    the frozen as dead, inheritance laws apply and
    there is no way of ensuring the revived are not
    destitute. The freezers are run by commercial
    firms who are liable to economic failure and
    bankruptcy as any other economic institution thus
    potentially leaving immortality in the hands of

Photo courtesy Alcor Life Extension FoundationIn
an operating room at Alcor Life Extension
Foundation, a cryonics patient is cooled in a vat
of dry ice as part of the "freezing" procedure.
Policing the living
  • At a death we have institutions for policing the
    living. For example, we have institutions to
    manage the laws on succession and inheritance of
    property and status. We have judicial and law
    enforcement institutions to hold to account those
    who commit homicide. Older people are vulnerable
    to mass murder c.f. Harold Shipman.
  • In modern world psychological well being of
    survivors post traumatic stress, grief
    counselling has become an additional realm of
    professional expertise. However, individuals are
    expected to engage in personal self policing. In
    terms of somantic ethics they have a
    responsibility for coming to terms with
    bereavement. The living are required to manage
    the morning process - the psychological process
    of consigning the dead to quiescent memory and
    there are psychological experts to help people
    through this process. To fail to do so in due
    time is to open up moral/medical accusations of
    being morbid, of insufficient self-control.

  • Policing, and self policing of the living, also
    leads us to the realm of euthanasia and choice of
    ones death. The Western culture with its values
    of individualism and choice, produces a profound
    ambivalence to suicide. It is the ultimate act of
    individual control and choice. It is also in
    terms of somantic ethics the ultimate sin
    destroying the material basis of existence.
  • Euthansasia therefore might be seen as the
    converse of attempts at immortality such as
    cryonics. It involves both a rejection of the
    power of science and reason to solve the problem
    of disease and pain satisfactorily and involves
    the abdication of self. Yet it involves the
    expression of individuality through choice - the
    ultimate choice to live or die.

Moral responsibility for death
  • The medical technicians at the scene of death
    have to work within the moral framework which
    gives them power and responsibility. They have to
    strive to avoid being blamed.
  • The moral apparatus of the post-mortal society
    seeks cause, and therefore blame, in the material
    facts of a material world scientifically
    understood, a world of cause and effect. Either
    the individual deceased is responsible for the
    cause, not engaging in the necessary risk
    management, or those responsible for not alerting
    the individual to making the correct safe
    choices are at fault. In these circumstances a
    good death is not possible.
  • Even, euthanasia becomes a problematic answer to
    the construction of a moral death. Somatic
    expertise implies there must be a discernable
    cause behind the desire to die whose failure is
    behind that desire? Candidates for culpability
    might include weakness in the moral standing of
    the individual, or weakness in the psychological
    make up of the individual due to parental
    upbringing, or clinical failure on the part of
    medical technicians to control pain, to control
    the course of the illness, or failure of public
    authorities who have not yet devoted the
    resources which will (inevitably, eventually)
    find a cure.

economics of vitality
  • the vital elements of life can be
  • decomposed into a series of distinct and
    discrete objects that can be isolated,
    delimited, stored, accumulated, mobilized, and
    exchanged, accorded a discrete value, traded
    across time, space, species, context enterprises
    in the service of many distinct objectives.
    (Rose 20087)
  • This trend is clearly identifiable in the world
    of anti-ageing science and medicine. Bio-capital
    is being sought by a wide range of anti-ageing
    entrepreneurs. The market serves as both source
    of capital and as outlet for consumer products.

  • A good case example is that of the history of the
    search for a method of using teleomere science to
    create an anti-ageing therapy. Bio-value is the
    realm of the anti-ageing foundations
    institutions which forge links between the
    scientist in the lab and the market. On one level
    the search for bio-value and ways to exploit it
    are based in the straight forward entrepreneurial
    profit motive. A patent on a once a day pill
    which enables you to live for ever is the
    ultimate cash machine.
  • However, there is a more profound and subtle
    critique of capitalism in which bio-capital can
    be seen as part of the objectification of people,
    undermining their humanity and dissolving human
    relationships and collective solidarity through
    the market. To the market, as with science, death
    is impersonal, mundane and essentially trivial.

Anti-ageing science and time
  • Biological ageing requires a sense of biological
    time at what rate does the body age, how can we
    measure it? Biological time has to be independent
    from chronological time. In order to establish
    biological time we need biomarkers, points which
    indicate its forward march.
  • Measuring functionality - Looking good for our
    age, looking ten years younger, being fit for
    your age requires appeal to such bio-markers.
    Culturally we a very familiar with the visible
    symbols we identify as signs of old age, grey
    hair, wrinkles, changes in posture, loss of
    hearing, eyesight and mental acuity. The problem,
    over and above the key issue of defining
    someones humanity by their visual appearance, is
    that these phenomena do not standardise into
    predictable chronological age with a high degree
    of accuracy.

Science outside time
  • Optimisation can mean more that looking good, or
    being functional for ones age. It contains an
    implicit view of the perfect body, the fully
    optimised body is one that never fails but is
    immortal. The construction is embedded in the
    concept of time inherent in modern science. In
    one sense the view of time as inevitably
    progressive underlies the optimisation drive.
    Science is seen as making inevitable progress -
    the future is more knowledgeable than the past
    history of science the history of elimination of
  • However, in an important sense, science is
    understood as outside of time. It is about the
    universal laws of nature, true for all time. The
    laws of nature at not seen as subject to time, to
    history and to change. Once they are known it is
    assumed they always were and always will be the
    same. Thus in the Petri dish or under the
    election microscope, in an important sense there
    is no time.
  • Failed experiments are false, imperfect while
    the truth will live on for ever. Perfection steps
    outside time. This is the world of the
    bio-gerontologists who see immortality as a
    practical project. It is a world without time a
    world which exists in the laboratory at the level
    of the cell and bio-chemical processes which
    animate it. It is not a world with human
    relationships and history. The logic then becomes
    - when we discover the laws of life we will be
    able to prevent death for ever because those laws
    never change.
  • Perfect understanding, creates immortal
    functionality and avoids death.

  • As life becomes something to be biologised,
    essentialised, manipulated and the subject of
    struggle and contest, so too does death. In the
    modern world, embedded in the belief in
    progressive science is the implication that it
    will provide the solution for death.
  • Scientists claim to have the techniques for
    increasing human life span, if not exactly now,
    at least the potential for the future. Scientific
    medicine acts as if it should have, and
    eventually will, find the cure for death. For the
    medical technician every death represents a
  • The modern world and its dominant scientific
    modes of accounting and legitimising knowledge
    have their share of the fountain of youth myths.
    Immortality, and the defeat of disease and injury
    are a common place of science fiction. These
    cultural manifestations come from the same mind
    set as that which sees the goal of science as the
    elimination of death.
  • The timeless individual has no age, the
    functionally perfect body does not die. In such a
    world we struggle to find rituals and to
    demarcate the sacred or anything meaningful in

  • Vincent, JA (2006). Ageing contested Anti-ageing
    science and the cultural construction of old age.
    Sociology, 40(4), 681-698
  • Lafontaine C (2008). La Société Post-Mortelle,
    Seuil Paris
  • Rose N (2007). Politics of life itself
    biomedicine, power and subjectivity in the
    twenty-first century, Princeton University Press,
  • Rose N (2001). The politics of life itself,
    Theory, culture society, 18(6), 1-30
  • Raloff J (2001). Coming to Terms with Death
    Accurate descriptions of a cell's demise may
    offer clues to diseases and treatments, Science
    News Online, 159(1), 378
  • Rando TA (2006). Stem cells, ageing and the quest
    for immortality, Nature, 441, 1080-1086.
    Published online 28 June
  • Harris J (1998). Clones, Genes and Immortality,
    2nd edn. Oxford University Press, Oxford
  • Shostak S (2002). Becoming Immortal Combining
    Cloning and Stem-Cell Therapy, State University
    of New York Press, Albany, New York
  • Bowie H (1998). Frequently Asked Questions (and
    Answers!) About Living Forever, poster by Herb
    Bowie on 12 November 1998 at
  • The Guardian Weekend, 7 November 2009, 51-59
  • Cryonics Institute. 2009. http//
    downloaded 25 June 2009.
  • Johnson CJ, McGee M (2004). Psychosocial Aspects
    of Death and Dying, Gerontologist 44, 719-722
  • Seymour JE (2000). Negotiating natural death in
    intensive care, Social Science Medicine, 21(8),
  • Vincent JA (2003). Old age, Routledge, London
  • Hall SS (2003). Merchants of immortality Chasing
    the dream of human life extension, Houghton
    Mifflin, Boston
  • Rabinow P, Dan-Cohen T (2005). A Machine to Make
    a Future Biotech Chronicles, Princeton
    University Press, Princeton
  • de Grey A (2003). The foreseeability of real
    anti-aging medicine focusing the debate,
    Experimental Gerontology, 38(9), 927-934
  • de Grey A (2007). The natural biogerontology
    portfolio - "Defeating aging" as a multi-stage
    ultra-grand challenge, in Rattan SIS, Akman S,
    (eds) Biogerontology Mechanisms and
    Interventions, 1100, 409-423, Proceedings of 5th
    European Congress of Biogerontology 16-20
    September 2006, Istanbul, Turkey
  • Boia L (2004). Forever young A cultural history
    of longevity, Reaktion Books, London
Write a Comment
User Comments (0)