Understanding the ageing process was one of the greatest challenges to biology in the 21st and 22nd centuries. During the 21st century the underlying mechanisms became well understood and senescence research shifted towards strategies for arresting and possibly reversing the ageing process. On an Earth already home to 11 billion people, many governments saw immediate disaster as the outcome of any such advances. In the most populous regions, public opinion was also firmly against radical life extension, viewing such advances as immoral. Bills to outlaw anagathic research were passed by China, five of the Indian states and most of Africa; similar measures failed to become law in the American Alliance by the narrowest margin.
In the EF, the life extension treatments already in wide use were dramatically reshaping society, and the imminence of effective immortality promised even more profound changes ahead. Power and wealth had long been accumulating in the hands of the ultra-old, and the young spoke of the beginnings of an eternal gerontocracy that would leave them disenfranchised. The debate in Eurasia was inevitably both more closely balanced and more fiercely argued than elsewhere. The commercial aristocracy of the Eurasian transnats, and various extropian and transhuman groups vigorously supported anagathic research. However, a loose alliance of environmental and Gaianist organisations was equally firmly opposed. At the most extreme end of the opposition were the Covenant of Eden, Spiritual Renaissance and other antiscience groups: 'the ignorance cults' in the words of one researcher. Through these turbulent times, the research went ahead in corporate labs on Earth, Luna and Mars.
By 2125 a number of therapies promising dramatic increases in longevity, conservatively estimated at several hundred years, were nearing the end of human safety trials. These anagathic regimens all involved a combination of transcriptase geneering, synthetic antioxidants, gene switching and cellular repair nanotechs. With these treatments about to reach the market, the reactionary fringe of Covenant of Eden began a massive campaign of terrorist attacks on biotechnology and geneering laboratories.
On 17 August 2125 a Covenant-planted bomb exploded in a United Biosystems arcology outside Oxford, ripping through the apartment of Pascale Breton, a leading exponent of the immortality treatments. Breton was attending a geneering conference in Paris, but her husband and six-year-old son were killed by the blast. Rational debate was all but suspended and public opinion turned sharply against the anti-immortality movement. Soon afterwards, the speaker of the Eurasian Federal Legislature announced that the ruling Free Market Collectivist bloc would not outlaw radical life extension technologies.
Early in 2126, a Sino-Indian coalition in the United Nations attempted to introduce a global ban on anagathics production. The Eurasian government firmly opposed such a ban. Dr Breton testified before the UN Assembly, making an impassioned plea for the freedom to use anagathics: 'I have seen death close up, and I know that it must be banished, no matter what the cost.' Eventually a moderate consensus emerged, and anagathics were made a controlled commodity by the UN Dangerous Technologies Commission.
On Earth, the megacorporations were granted licenses for small-scale manufacturing, but a system of tariffs kept the price artificially high. Beyond Earth, however, the situation was very different. The populations of orbital space, Luna and Mars were relatively low, and the Malthusian crash expected in a society of immortals was far in the future. The UNDTC imposed only lax controls on anagathics in the extraterrestrial colonies and the use of life-extension technologies became common. The availability of immortality treatments became one more social force separating the rich of space from the poor of Earth.
Ironically, Pascale Breton, who became one of Earth's first and most famous immortalists, died in a hang-glider accident in 2153, aged only 62.
The future of Ad Astra