Background Paper

Published 01/11/2015

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The author was commissioned by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics to write this paper in order to inform the Council’s discussions about possible future work on this topic. The paper is intended to provide an overview of key clinical, ethical, social, legal and policy issues, but is not intended to offer any conclusions or recommendations regarding future policy and practice. Any views expressed in the paper are the author’s own and not those of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

This paper provided background for our bioethics briefing note, The search for a treatment for ageing.


Dr Hans-Jörg Ehni, Deputy Director, Institute for Ethics and History of Medicine, University of Tübingen, Germany


For the first time, interventions to slow physical ageing are within reach. This background paper examines a possible increase in longevity and its potential ethical implications. The current situation is presented as follows:

  • Several interventions have successfully slowed ageing, prevented or postponed age-associated diseases, and prolonged the life span of animals in laboratory settings.
  • Biogerontologists are confident that their knowledge and methods can be applied to humans. They present these methods as a new paradigm for medicine.
  • Clinical trials of some interventions are already underway.
  • The primary goal would be to prevent age-associated diseases by slowing ageing, but as a corollary,longevity is likely to increase as well.

The background paper describes the possible increase of longevity achieved by slowing biological ageing as a ‘second longevity revolution’. The ‘first longevity revolution’ refers to the increase of longevity since the middle of the 19thCentury. One of the results of these revolutions in longevity is the phenomenon of ‘population ageing’, and its associated implications. It is important that biogerontology and its application to medicine is analysed and evaluated in this broader context.