Our society is plagued by a crisis of aging that is weakening, infecting and killing hundreds of millions of us every year. We rarely think of it this way–aging is seen as a natural part of life rather than a crisis–but many serious researchers and philosophers argue that we our typical views on the naturalness and acceptability of death are mistaken.
Philosopher Nick Bostrom wrote a fable, initially published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, as an analogy to our acceptance of aging as natural. In the story, a dragon-tyrant rules over humanity, demanding 10,000 victims to be consumed daily. But the dragon has been around as long as anyone can remember, and the taking of victims is a well-established and accepted facet of life. While they find the losses of the victims tragic and the victims’ families mourn, it is simply understood that this is just the way things are and the way they have always been.
Should they, if they had the opportunity, rid themselves of the dragon, thus saving countless lives? Of course, it seems obvious to us that they should. Suppose there’s no obvious way to defeat the dragon–shouldn’t they spend significant resources investigating and developing plans to defeat the dragon? Again, the answers seems obviously to be yes.