Should We Live Forever? The ethical ambiguities of
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HUMAN beings generally desire life. Most of us are grateful for
the good gift that is our life. Like other animals, we pass through
a life-cycle from birth to maturity and then towards death. Every
human society is organised to manage the changing desires
associated with this life-cycle, which passes through distinct
stages such as infancy, juvenility, adolescence, adulthood, and
The subject for this short, engaging, and wise book is the
specific dimension of the stage of old age, and how we need to
think about the particular shape and point of growing old. In six
chapters, we are taken on a journey of exploration into a deeper
and more reflective meaning of ageing.
The organising question that Meilaender asks us to consider is
the nature of the desire to live and stay healthy and active
longer. It is perhaps natural to want to postpone death and extend
life. After all, life is a pretty good gift, and we do not want it
to end. He affirms the desire for life, but he also points out
serious concerns with our desire to live for ever.
We are asked to consider the nature of human life, the
relationship between generations, and how the life-extension
project may have arisen out of the old understanding of the soul as
good and the body as evil.
Meilaender does not reject the rewards of medicine in the
extending of life, but reminds us that there are costs; and that is
the crux of the dilemma. By seeking more life, we change what a
human life is, and inevitably lose aspects that make it
The book engages in theological wisdom and applies it. While it
sympathises with our love of life, the ultimate hope is not for
life extension but life divine. This is why the qualitatively
different life for which Christian believers have hoped has not
been thought to be in any sense simply an extension of this life -
or the product of human ingenuity. We understand life (and age) as
the gift of God, a new creation. It means being drawn into the life
shared by Father, Son, and Spirit.
It follows that the key to our understanding of old age lies in
a grasp of human life, in all its limits and vulnerability, which
can remain open to the divine life, and within which we can begin
to see the power and meaning of the virtue of hope. This is a core
task of our narration of old age, with its extraordinary power for
transformation and wisdom.
The Churches have yet to seriously face their own fear of age
and the consequent (and sometimes shocking) ageism. This is a book
that readers will find a thoughtful, careful and creatively
theological study of the ethical issues that surrounds ageing and
our desire to postpone death.
The Revd Dr James Woodward is a Canon of Windsor and author
of Valuing Age (SPCK, 2008).