Countess Elizabeth Báthory was a Hungarian noble women infamous for killing her young servant girls (many of them) in order to drink and bath in their blood, in the belief that these macabre practices would keep her young and beautiful.
She was not entirely mistaken.
Several scientific studies on rats have shown that the blood and stem cells of young rats can be used to increase the vitality and lifespans of older rodents.
All indications are that that older humans could experience similar benefits from consuming the blood of their own young.
Celulartity, for example, is a company exploring the use of human stem cells (taken from placenta, not aborted foetuses, the company is quick to point out) in cellular rejuvenation and longevity treatments, with some promising results. The research promises to aid in not only extending human life, but also improving quality of life in old age.
Another company, Ambrosia, is already in the process of recruiting 600 “older” people to participate in a trial where they will receive regular injections of 16-to-25-year-olds’ blood. We are talking literal vampirism here. The programme has attracted the attention of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people, including Silicon Valley mogul, Peter Theil.
If you are not patient enough to wait for the official results of the current studies, there are, in fact, already private clinics around the world where, if you are rich enough, you can subject yourself to plasmapheresis, as the voluntary blood transfusions are known. (Of course, the rich and famous, including, famously, Kim Kardashian, have been promoting the joys of Vampire Facials, which involve spraying the patient’s own blood over their face, for years. Using other people’s blood to look young and beautiful is but a small step from there.)
This is all wonderful news for people dismayed at the thought of being kept alive (but just barely) well into their 80’s, 90’s and even 100’s by modern medicine.
However, there are some serious ethical issues around these sorts of treatments. The creepy idea of elderly people literally feeding off the blood of their own young in order to capture the essence of youth (however ethically the said plasma or stem cells are harvested) aside, the bigger ethical debate centres around the future, and who owns the rights to it.
In the past, the elderly died and made way for future generations. Now, however, with “immortality” almost within grasp, we are faced with the reality that elders will be competing for resources, both financial and natural with multiple generations of their own descendants. Earth’s population is already growing at a rate of around 83 million people a year. As older people are sticking around for longer and longer, the earth’s resources will be further stretched, giving rise to some very real inter-generational conflict.
Who has more right to those resources? The elders who were there first, or the young and still to be born waiting their turn?
Will we see older generations promoting birth control measures to prevent too many young competitors being born?
Or could we see younger generations limiting access to life-extending medical procedures to ensure that they too get their best chance at a future?
Whatever happens, inter-generation conflict is a space to watch.