The Fountain of Youth: Cultural, Scientific, and Ethical Perspectives on a Biomedical Goal

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A wide variety of ambitions and measures to slow, stop, and reverse phenomena associated with aging have been part of human culture since early civilization. From alchemy to cell injections to dietary supplements, the list of techniques aimed at altering the processes of aging continues to expand. Charlatans, quacks, and entrpreneurs proffering anti-aging products and practices have always exploited uniformed customers and instilled doubt and apprehension toward practices intended to extend life. Recently, however, the pursuit of longevity has developed into a respectable scientific activity. Many biologists are substantially funded by the government and the private sector to conduct research that they believe will lead to effective anti-aging interventions.

While many embrace this quest for "prolongevity"—extended youth and long life—others fear its consequences. If effective anti-aging interventions were achieved, they would likely bring about profound alterations in the experiences of individual and collective life. What if aging could be decelerated to the extent that both average life expectancy and maximum life span would increase by forty percent? What if all humans could live to be centenarians, free of the chronic diseases and disabilities now commonly associated with old age? What if modern scientists could find the modern equivalent to the Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Leon sought?

This book addresses these questions by exploring the ramifications of possible anti-aging interventions on both individual and collective life. Through a series of essays, it examines the biomedical goal of prolongevity from cultural, scientific, religious, and ethical perspectives, offering a sweeping view into the future of aging.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This timely book, consisting of 17 chapters, a highly commendable annotated bibliography, and a review of selected primary articles, was assembled to review the history of the quest for extended and eternal life, the contemporary science of prolongevity, ethical and social perspectives on radical life extension, and the legitimacy of the antiaging movement . . . I would highly recommend this book as a most readable, provocative, and informative primer for all serious observers of biogerontology (including geriatricians) as they examine the progressive aging of the world's population - a trend that is certain to pose a central challenge to 21st-century civilization." —William R. Hazzard, M.D., in The New England Journal of Medicine

"The editors tactfully and unobtrusively present scholarly apparatus and the language is sophisticated but clear, opening the views of scientists, religious thinkers, bioethicists, historians and social scientists to a broad range of readers." —Science & Theology News

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Mary Jeanne Clark, BSN, MA (Condell Medical Center)
Description: This is a compilation of essays by the foremost academicians in the field of aging research in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The topics are well defined and focused and appropriately separated into two sections: scientific research and the social/ethical ramifications that such research engenders.
Purpose: The editors sought to demonstrate the interdisciplinary span of opinion that exist in the field of aging and stimulate the discussion about what the future might hold for elders individually and for society as a whole. The field of aging research is broad and touches on many fields of inquiry. The book demonstrates that aging has become an unusually broad field of study demanding the erudition of many disciplines to sort out the impact and meaning.
Audience: Highly academic, the book offers scientific and academic insight to students who may be enticed to make a career following a particular research focus. Or it may produce that particular bit of insight a practitioner needs to be successful in practice. The essayists are the leading researchers and philosophers in the aging field.
Features: The book covers in-depth the shorter articles that we read in the professional journals and even in the popular press. The topics of anti-aging, longer life expectancy, and an extended lifespan and ethical considerations are only defined, discussed, and dissected so vigorously in the myriads of scientific and philosophical papers hidden so well in the journals of academia. This book brings all of the issues together. In a logical progression from a historical perspective, to modern science and contemporary philosophy, readers can get a taste of the entire field of study.
Assessment: If you are interested in the subject of aging this book will keep your interest. If you can read through the academic style and take what information and thought you need from the topics discussed you will not be disappointed. The book is meant for those who care about the topic. It is the kind of book that may be an inspiration to greater work or study; or just a fascinating read; or a true bore if the writing style is not your favorite.

3 Stars from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195170085
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

both at School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University
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Table of Contents

One: The Search for Prolongevity: A Contentious Pursuit, Robert H. Binstock
Two: The Quest for Immortality: Visions and Presentiments in Science and Literature, Mark B. Adams
Three: Decelerated Aging: Should I Drink From a Fountain of Youth?, Stephen G. Post
Four: A Jewish Theology of Death and the Afterlife, Neil Gillman
Five: In Defense of Immortality, Carol G. Zaleski
Six: In Search of the Holy Grail of Senescence, S. Jay Olshansky and Bruce A. Carnes
Seven: The Metabiology of Life Extension, Michael Rose
Eight: Extending Human Longevity: A Biological Probability, Robert Arking
Nine: Eat Less, Eat Better, and Live Longer: Does it Work and Is It Worth It? The Role of Diet in Aging, Gemma Casadesus, George Perry, James A. Joseph, and Mark A. Smith
Ten: Extending Life: Scientific Prospects and Political Obstacles, Richard A. Miller
Eleven: An Engineer's Approach To Developing Real Anti-Aging Medicine, Aubrey D.N.J. de Grey
Twelve: An Unnatural Process: Why It Is Not Inherently Wrong to Seek a Cure For Aging, Arthur L. Caplan
Thirteen: Longevity, Identity, and Moral Character: A Feminist Approach, Christne Overall
Fourteen: L'Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?, Leon R. Kass
Fifteen: Anti-Aging Research and the Limits of Medicine, Eric T. Juengst
Sixteen: The Social and Justice Implications of Extending the Human Life Span, Audrey R. Chapman
Seventeen: The "Prolonged Old," the "Long-Lived Society," and the Politics of Age, Robert H. Binstock
Epilogue: Extended Life, Eternal Life: A Christian Perspective, Diogenes Allen
Annotated Bibliography, Roselle S. Ponsaran
Primary Literary Sources on Prolongevity, Carol A. Donley

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