Hell On Earth: Should Life Extension Technology Be Used to Punish Criminals?

Prometheus having his liver eaten by an eagle....

Prometheus having his liver eaten by an eagle. Painting by Jacob Jordaens, c. 1640, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That which is giving can be used to take away. What if life extension is used to punish? Should we punish the most heinous of villains for 100… 200… 300 years? What say you disinfonauts?

via aeon

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Hitler got off easy, given the scope and viciousness of his crimes. We might have moved beyond the Code of Hammurabi and ‘an eye for an eye’, but most of us still feel that a killer of millions deserves something sterner than a quick and painless suicide. But does anyone ever deserve hell?

That used to be a question for theologians, but in the age of human enhancement, a new set of thinkers is taking it up. As biotech companies pour billions into life extension technologies, some have suggested that our cruelest criminals could be kept alive indefinitely, to serve sentences spanning millennia or longer. Even without life extension, private prison firms could one day develop drugs that make time pass more slowly, so that an inmate’s 10-year sentence feels like an eternity. One way or another, humans could soon be in a position to create an artificial hell.

At the University of Oxford, a team of scholars led by the philosopher Rebecca Roache has begun thinking about the ways futuristic technologies might transform punishment. In January, I spoke with Roache and her colleagues Anders Sandberg and Hannah Maslen about emotional enhancement, ‘supercrimes’, and the ethics of eternal damnation. What follows is a condensed and edited transcript of our conversation.

Suppose we develop the ability to radically expand the human lifespan, so that people are regularly living for more than 500 years. Would that allow judges to fit punishments to crimes more precisely?



  • BuzzCoastin

    the whole concept of punishment is warped
    systems of justice tend to be criminal
    it’s bad enough wee give some the power to punish
    (he that is without sin let him cast the first stone)
    giving some the right to punish indefinitely
    is definitely cruel & unusual punishment

  • Sir Legendhead

    It’d be a great way to prevent them from becoming ghosts or reincarnating.
    Aside from that, terrible idea. Best to let nature take its course.

    • JD McKinstry

      U really believe in ghost? Can we commit capitol punishment to morons too?

      • Earthstar

        I believe in trolls.
        How’s life in mom’s basement?

        • JD McKinstry

          I don’t know, you tell me. No trolling, but believing in ghost in today’s day and age of science is about as ignorant as believing the world is flat, moron.

      • Sir Legendhead


  • alizardx

    NYC cost inmate per year $168K.http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/24/nyregion/citys-annual-cost-per-inmate-is-nearly-168000-study-says.html?_r=0 Add perhaps $250K/year in life extension procedures/ medical maintenance to that? Entertainment value of torture in an artificial hell not worth it to sane people.

    Anyone who advocates this needs to be booted the fuck out of public life.

  • New Monkey

    It reminds me of a Judge Dredd storyline – perp gets told he has just one week to live due to some weird disease so he goes postal – when Dredd eventually captures him then perp laughs in his face! So Dredd gets him frozen until his disease is curable.. and then he’ll have to do 50 years in an iso-cube….

  • Rhoid Rager

    punishment is the opposite of justice, you silly fuck

  • godozo

    The assumption behind this idea (extending life to more fully punish criminals) is that society will be able to last as long as the punishment – something that can never be assumed. Better to leave THAT job to God, or Karma.

  • Andrew

    How many wrongs does it take to make a right?

    • Calypso_1


  • eccles11

    Human capacity for cruelty seems to be limitless, it seems like soon we will be able to cruelty exact this cruelty without Technological hindrance.

  • Reuben_the_Red

    That’s a great idea. Especially the part where criminals outlive everyone else and take over, a la The Wrath of Khan.

  • InfvoCuernos

    And I would like to point out the lack of any mention of extending the lives of any who have been mistakenly imprisoned and later exonerated. Fuck this system.

  • Jonas Planck

    Anyone who has ever heard the name Charlie Lunchbucket would agree with me when I give an emphatic NO as my answer to that question.

  • http://singedrac.livejournal.com Singe

    This is a big theme in Iain M. Banks’ sci-fi novel, “Surface Detail,” where there are civilizations who punish those they judge morally corrupt by putting them in eternities of virtual hells.