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On Immortality

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Submitted By lerz
Words 990
Pages 4
Lauren Redmond
English 1000: Exposition and Argumentation

What if Dying Becomes a Thing of the Past?

How would you feel if someone came up to you tomorrow and told you they have what it takes to enable you to live forever? My immediate reactions would be those of excitement and curiosity for what the future would be like. But as the idea becomes more of a reality, and more research on the topic is done, hesitation and reluctance would replace my excitement. In her essay “On Immortality,” Susan McCarthy introduces many scientists’ perspectives on the advancement of genetic research that could lead to humans living immortally. McCarthy uses emotional appeals, such as diction and choice of examples, to inform her readers about the ongoing genetic research and its potential risks. She challenges her readers to weigh the benefits of living longer with the reality of all humankind coexisting peaceably. One aspect of McCarthy’s emotional appeal is the way she emphasizes the risk of cancer and the despair that most people feel when they hear that word, leading them to doubt the genetic advancements. McCarthy uses repetition in an effort to tell us how moving forward with the idea of human immortality could take a turn for the worse. Cancer is first brought into her essay when she explains the telomerase gene. After talking with Dr. Huber Warner, the director of the biology of aging program at the NIA, McCarthy notes, “Cancer cells are all about telomerase [the gene which can replenish lost cells] and unrestricted cell division” (546). We learn that immortality could allow cancer cells to live on forever. This idea was supported by McCarthy’s exchange with Dr. Leonard Hayflick. Hayflick’s research demonstrates how extending human longevity would be a dreadful idea. McCarthy shares one of Hayflick’s main points where he says, “The cell lines that do go on forever [as compared to normal cells] are cancer cells” (547). So cancer cells will not die, as opposed to normal cells, which after so many divisions can divide no more and will die. I think she uses ‘cancer’ to highlight the feeling of loss in her readers because everyone knows someone affected by cancer, and more often than not, the individual succumbs to this disease. With immortality, if said cancer was not terminal, there is great likelihood you would have to live with it the rest of your life; what a hard thought that is to process when people talk about immortality and the benefits that could come with it. Another aspect of McCarthy’s appeal to our emotions is how she uses names of infamous people who should not have the opportunity of living forever. The names she mentions, like Hitler and Castro, enhance a point she made early on in her essay, “Should all of us be allowed to hang around as long as we want? Even creeps?” (544). When first thinking about immortality, living forever sounds nice. I mean who doesn’t want to have another cup of coffee with their lost loved ones? But then McCarthy brings us an indisputable truth: not everyone in this world is good and her opinion is that “Fidel Castro isn’t ready to die” (549). Then she references Hayflick’s opinion, “’I don’t think that having Adolf Hitler around for the next 500 years makes much sense’” (549). Who could argue with either of those statements? Hitler’s genocide of the Jewish people and the atrocities of the concentration camps continue to haunt the families of the survivors and of those who were lost. Castro, too, is accused of violating human rights in his rise to power as Cuba’s Communist dictator. By using the names of notorious people in her essay, she brings unpleasant thoughts to mind about the injustices people have suffered at the hands of a few and stresses how horrific the world could be if the next step of gene innovation was realized.
McCarthy ends her story with an emotional appeal regarding evolution by using diction and a reflective, questioning tone. In order to make us feel better about the research taking place, she references organizations who, “emphasize that they are not interested in increasing life span so much as increasing ‘health span’ and the years people can live with vitality, dignity, and comfort” (545). McCarthy asks, “Why aren’t we immortal already?...It seems a bit odd that there are no immortal species around” (548). This questioning tone gives readers the sense that she is reluctant to accept the idea of immortality as being something we should pursue. McCarthy believes that you cannot be immortal and continue to evolve. She goes on to include, “It’s all about reproduction…once we’ve produced the next generation and gotten them on their feet, what happens to us is of no relevance to the future” (548). Furthermore, with reproduction comes evolution, but without death “the world will fill up with people” (548) and we will run out of space and resources. To me, each generation is presumably smarter and stronger than their predecessors. Competition invokes a jealous emotion because no one wants to be shown up, whether it’s by someone older or younger. With the possibility of immortality, there would be many generations competing to be the best. Contrary to traditional evolution, the weaker generation wouldn’t die and future generations would become less dominant.
McCarthy does a great job in getting her readers emotionally engaged in the topic by presenting various ideas and perspectives about the troubles that could come with immortality. She counters the primary benefit of ‘health span’ with many instances of potential downsides. She continues to keep our minds thinking by asking, “Will everyone get to live forever, or will we make decisions about how long people get to live and when they have to stop?” (548). This leaves readers with a sense that increased longevity from being immortal is not as good as it initially seems.…...

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