De Grey has some interesting notions of human nature. He insists that, on the one hand, it is basic to humankind to want to live forever regardless of consequences, while on the other it is not basic to want to have children. When I protested that the two most formative instincts of all living things are to survive and to pass on their DNA, he quickly made good use of the one and denied the existence of the other. Bolstering his argument with the observation that many people – like Adelaide and himself – choose not to have children, he replied, not without a hint of petulance and some small bit of excited waving of his hands,
Your precept is that we all have the fundamental impulse to reproduce. The incidence of voluntary childlessness is exploding. Therefore the imperative to reproduce is not actually so deep seated as psychologists would have us believe. It may simply be that it was the thing to do – the more traditional thing. My point of view is that a large part of it may simply be indoctrination….I’m not in favor of giving young girls dolls to play with, because it may perpetuate the urge to motherhood.
De Grey has commented in several fora on his conviction that, given the choice, the great majority of people would choose life extension over having children and the usual norms of family life. This being so, he says, far fewer children would be born. He did not hesitate to say the same to me:
We will realize there is an overpopulation problem, and if we have the sense we’ll decide to fix it [by not reproducing] sooner rather than later, because the sooner we fix it the more choice we’ll have about how we live and where we live and how much space we will have and all that. Therefore, the question is, what will we do? Will we decide to live a long time and have fewer children, or will we decide to reject these rejuvenation therapies in order that we can have children? It seems pretty damn clear to me that we’ll take the former option, but the point is that I don’t know and I don’t need to know.
Of course, de Grey’s reason for not needing to know is that same familiar imperative he keeps returning to, the imperative that everyone is entitled to choice regardless of the possible consequences. What we need to know, he argues, can be found out after the fact and dealt with when it appears. Without giving humankind the choice, however, we deprive it of its most basic liberty. It should not be surprising that a man as insistently individualistic – and as uncommon a sort – as he would emphasize freedom of personal choice far more than the potentially toxic harvest that might result from cultivating that dangerous seed in isolation. As with every other of his formulations, this one – the concept of untrammeled freedom of choice for the individual – is taken out of the context of its biological and societal surroundings. Like everything else, it is treated in vitro rather than in vivo.
In campaigns that occur across the length of several continents, de Grey’s purpose is only secondarily to overcome resistance to his theories. His primary aim is to publicize himself and his formulations as widely as possible, not for the sake of personal glory but as a potential means of raising the considerable funding that will be necessary to carry out the research that needs to be done if his plans are to stand any chance of so much as partial success. He has laid out a schedule projecting the timeline on which he would like to see certain milestones reached.
The first of these milestones would be to rejuvenate mice. De Grey would extend the life span of a two-year-old mouse that might ordinarily live one more year by three years. He believes funding of around $100 million a year will make this feasible “10 years from now; almost certainly not as soon as seven years; but very likely…less than 20 years.” Such an accomplishment, de Grey believes, will “kick-start a war on aging” and be “the trigger for enormous social upheaval.” In an article for the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences [de Grey et al., 959: 452-462, 2002], which lists seven coauthors after his own name, de Grey writes, “We contend that the impact on public opinion and (inevitably) public policy of unambiguous aging-reversal in mice would be so great that whatever work remained necessary at that time to achieve adequate somatic gene therapy would be hugely accelerated.” Not only that, he asserts, but the public enthusiasm following upon such a feat will cause many people to begin making life choices based on the probability that they, too, will reach a proportional number of years. Moreover, when death from a disease like influenza, for example, is considered premature at the age of 200, the urgent need to solve the problems of infectious disease will massively increase government and drug company funding in that area.