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Ethical norms regarding a life-extension facilitated by medicine

(Within the scope of the research group forms of aging and aging fates)



The project is being conducted in cooperation with the clinic and polyclinic for psychiatry and psychotherapy of the University of Bonn. The subject of analysis is formed by ethical questions arising in the course of biomedical research concerning the facilitation of a prolonged lifespan. Despite the fact that the average life expectancy has substantially increased in the Western industrialized countries due to medical procedures, the biologically maximal lifespan has hardly extended over the entire history of humanity. Against this backdrop, a change is being expected as a result of the application of genetic engineering on the human being, which is not only to treat diseases but which might potentially affect natural processes such as aging.
Given the results of biological aging research, other instruments seem to be fitting for a targeted life extension as well. The option of possibly slowing down the aging process proves to entail particular difficulties within the debate that is currently being led in medical ethics regarding the normative significance of the differentiation between the treatment of diseases (diagnosis, prevention, therapy) and the improvement of bodily and mental features that are not related to diseases (Enhancement). 
Since many diseases are, at least, being facilitated by the aging process, its slowing down could also be presented as a form of prevention.
Furthermore, the identification as Enhancement is not coercively a normatively adequate criterion for exclusion for a desired treatment; the more so, as there already are non-therapeutic treatments available, which many people rank among the accepted medical treatments (such as aesthetic surgery).
The existing tension between the desire to transcend natural boundaries and the appreciation of that given by nature is of ethical significance within this context. Social-ethical implications of a possible extension of the lifespan are also being addressed.
The project deals with the question of how these scenarios of intervention into the aging process as well as the expectation of a substantially prolonged maximal lifespan can be interpreted and normatively judged. The project is part of the research group ‘Alternsformen und Alternsschicksale’ (‘Forms of aging and aging fates’), which is being established at the University of Bonn under the direction of Prof. Dr. Georg Rudinger.



  • Researcher:
    Thomas Runkel
    Institut für Wissenschaft und Ethik, Bonn
    Phone: +49 (0)228 / 3364-19 20
    Fax: +49 (0)228 / 3364-19 50


  • Funding:
    University of Bonn


  • Funding period:
    March 2003 - June 2004
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