Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Anti-Aging Medicine: Predictions, Moral Obligations, and Biomedical Intervention

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Anti-Aging Medicine: Predictions, Moral Obligations, and Biomedical Intervention

Article excerpt

Abstract

The emergence and proliferation of anti-aging medicine since the 1990s situates the process of aging-rather than "age-associated" disease-as a target for biomedical intervention. Bypassing the notion of disease entirely, anti-aging proponents argue that biological aging is the problem. The shift tendered by anti-aging proponents proceeds largely upon predictions for the future. A compelling prediction must have built into it a sense of feasibility and a sense of moral purpose. Feasibility is principally predicated upon a particular history and a map for the endeavors' imagined success. The notion that aging is painful and costly both for the individual and for society links with the powerful ethic of scientific progress to ground anti-aging predictions in the here and now of scientific funding, research and practice. Imagining this kind of future demands, in this sense, its pursuit. And its pursuit then refashions our relationship to our past by reifying the particular history in which it is embedded.

[Keywords: Future/Prediction, Biomedicine, Nature/Disease]

Emerging with gusto in the 1990s and with increasing relevance in popular and scientific discussion in the past five years, anti-aging medicine situates the process of aging as a target for biomedical intervention and proceeds upon predictions made for the technoscientific future. Predictions of a feasible anti-aging medicine vary as to how soon and how long science will extend life-and health-spans and come packaged within a framework of the "good" that can and should be done with anti-aging medicine.

A compelling prediction must have built into it a sense of feasibility (which is grounded in a particularly drawn history and at least an opaque map of viability) and a sense of moral purpose. For anti-aging, the tagged histories include the dramatic longevity increases in the American 20th century and the explosion of biotechnology-both of which provide historical trends explicated out as trajectories. Coupled with the "promise" of various biotechnologies such as stem cell work, nanotechnology, and genetic medicine, these histories and predicted means of discovering anti-aging medicine contribute to the increasing belief that it is possible. Even together, however, these pillars of feasibility are not enough for a strategic prediction. The notion that aging is painful and costly both for the individual and for society links with the powerful ethic of scientific overcoming (and resisting "victimhood") to ground anti-aging predictions in the here and now of scientific funding, research and practice. Imagining this kind of future demands, in this sense, its pursuit. And its pursuit then refashions our relationship to our past by reifying the particular history upon which it is embedded.

Predictions are powerful not only in what they might tell about our potential future but also in how resources are marshaled today, how our lives are lived, what constrains and triggers our imagination and even how we relate to our histories. And anti-aging medicine, with its challenge to "mainstream" biomedicine in understanding the obligation toward treating the process of aging rather than diseases associated with aging is largely absent from the ethnographic record. This paper, drawing from research conducted since 1999, examines the forecasts of anti-aging activists and biogerontologists who predict that aging may indeed be reversed and/or retarded. Thus, it contributes to this literature by focusing specifically on the competing histories and roadmaps for "success" that help draw predictions and the ethical arguments posed for the pursuit of anti-aging predictions. It is particularly important to lay out anthropological analysis of this emergence as anti-aging draws increasing national attention, highlighted particularly in the inclusion of this topic in the deliberations of the President's Council on Bioethics.1

While the future makes its way into many discussions of science and biomedicine, limited work has been done theorizing such predictions explicitly. …

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