Bioethics @ TIU

On Michael D. West and the Medical Crusade to Defeat Death, Part 1

Posted May 9th, 2011 by Erik Clary

This past week I picked up a copy of The Immortal Cell, written by gerontologist Michael D. West, founder of Geron Corporation and, later, CEO of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT).  Geron and ACT  were quite  significant  in the early development of  human embryonic stem (HES) cell research. In West’s personal account of the history of the field, there is much to grab the reader’s attention, perhaps none more so than the conclusions he reached one afternoon as a young baccalaureate while reflecting upon death. As he recounts (p.30),

“I realized that it was simply not in my nature to accept death or be defeated by it. The call wasn’t even a close one. I could never again resign myself to laying my loved ones down in the grave. It was crystal clear to me what I had to do. I had to defeat death.“

 

Interestingly, West presents this life-changing experience on the back-end of a discussion of how he came to surrender his belief in man as a special creation to an evolutionary account of human origins. This juxtaposition raises some interesting questions:

Can evolutionary theory truly accommodate West’s intense loathing of human suffering and death? On what account can these be viewed in negative terms if they come part and parcel with the evolutionary process?

Does West’s crusade against death entail the notion that human evolution has somehow reached its pinnacle?

If West et al conquer death, how might human evolution proceed? If people are going to live forever and the resources to support them are finite, then it would seem that the instinct for self-preservation would demand a halt to reproduction. Ironically, a core feature of the evolutionary process – reproductive success – will have to be resisted, or so it seems.

Setting aside the consideration of a campaign against death within an evolutionary paradigm, on what points may Christians agree and disagree with West in his view towards death?

2 Responses

  1. Steve Phillips says:

    It seems to me that West is a little late. Death was already defeated by the resurrection of the one who came to bring eternal life. Even though death will not be eliminated from the human experience until he comes again at the end of this world’s existence, those who understand what Jesus did do not need to fear death like those who limit their understanding to the physical universe of philosophic naturalism.

  2. Steve Phillips says:

    It seems to me that West is a little late. Death was already defeated by the resurrection of the one who came to bring eternal life. Even though death will not be eliminated from the human experience until he comes again at the end of this world’s existence, those who understand what Jesus did do not need to fear death like those who limit their understanding to the physical universe of philospohic naturalism.

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