August 6, 2013

Living to 120 and Beyond: Americans’ Views on Aging, Medical Advances and Radical Life Extension

Chapter 6: Radical Life Extension and Views on Other Life Issues

longevity-chp6-1What are Americans’ views on other issues related to life and death? And how do these views relate to opinions about radical life extension?

About half of U.S. adults (49%) say that having an abortion is morally wrong, while 15% say it is morally acceptable. About a quarter (23%) say having an abortion is not a moral issue. Attitudes about the morality of abortion have been fairly stable since this question was first asked on Pew Research surveys in 2006.

Compared with abortion, fewer U.S. adults (22%) consider embryonic stem cell research to be morally wrong. A majority says that conducting embryonic stem cell research is either morally acceptable (32%) or that such research is not a moral issue (36%). Opinion about medical research using stem cells from non-embryonic sources is a bit more accepting; 16% of adults say non-embryonic stem cell research is morally wrong, while a third say it is morally acceptable, and 42% say it is not a moral issue.

About one-in-ten U.S. adults (12%) say using in vitro fertilization is morally wrong, while a third say it is morally acceptable, and 46% say it is not a moral issue.

Perhaps surprisingly, people’s moral assessments about these other bioethical issues are not strong predictors of where they stand on radical life extension. For example, Americans who consider having an abortion to be morally wrong are about equally likely to say they, personally, would want treatments to radically extend their life as others in the general public.

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But opinions about another moral issue – the death penalty – tend to be more strongly related to views about radical life extension. Overall, a majority of adults (55%) favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, while 37% oppose it.

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Those who oppose the death penalty are more inclined to consider radically life-extending treatments to be good for society (47%), compared with those who favor the death penalty (38%).

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Similarly, those who oppose the death penalty are more inclined to say they personally would want treatments for radical life extension (43% versus 36% among those who favor the death penalty).

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When it comes to moral assessments and opinion about the death penalty, there are sizable differences among political groups. Views about radical life extension, however, are only modestly related to partisanship. Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party are more inclined than their Republican counterparts to consider radical life extension a positive development for society (46% vs. 35%). But the two groups are about equally likely to say they personally would want to get radical life-extending treatments (40% among Democrats and Democratic leaners, 36% among Republicans and Republican leaners).

The relationship between political party and views of radical life extension appears to be largely explained by the greater tendency among blacks and Hispanics to identify with the Democratic Party and also to hold more accepting views about radical life extension. Among whites, there is no relationship between party identification and radical life extension. Whites who are Republican or lean toward the Republican Party hold views about the overall effect of radical life extension on society that are not significantly different from the views of whites who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. The two groups are also about equally likely to say they personally would want radical life-extending treatments.

By contrast, there are strong differences in views about the death penalty, abortion and embryonic stem cell research between whites who are Republicans or independents who lean toward the Republicans and whites who are Democrats or lean toward the Democrats.