We keep it simple

SOCIETY Who wants to live forever?

Published 01 Mar 2018 11:23AM

Words by Martha Glaister | Staff Writer

In Western culture it is a bit of a taboo to discuss dying, to talk about what we want for our bodies after we're gone.

In 2016 59% of UK adults and 64% of Americans had not written a will. This may be due to the secret fact that no one thinks they’re going to die, not really, not me. If we don’t talk about it, it will just go away. Or maybe they will invent something like in Altered Carbon where we can never really die.

Altered Carbon, now on Netflix, is set in 2384 and sees humans able to live forever, when one body dies they simply get a new one, their mind uploaded onto a ‘stack’, ready to go into a new ‘sleeve’.

But how realistic is this future world, and is it something we should even been looking to hope for and create.

Cryonics is the low temperature preservation of people who cannot be helped by today’s medicine, in the hope that they can be fully resuscitated in the future and helped by advanced medicine. As of 2014, about 250 bodies were cryopreserved in the USA, some just choosing to have their heads preserved.

Cryonics may be the nearest future we see to that in Altered Carbon. Its science is based on the idea that the brain doesn't have to be continuously active to survive or retain memory. So the bodies are put into a deep freeze, today’s tech cannot currently reverse this, ie bring the person back to life, but the hopes are that in the future there will be technology that can revive these people who will still have all their memories and personalities.

This just all adds to the hope that we will not die, we can be frozen, brought back by future generations when they invent a way to do so. Or, what about even when alive, getting an entirely new body…

In 2013 Neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero stated that he was working to make human head transplants possible. Last year he transplanted the heads between two cadavers.

Canavero claims that the procedure on a live human is imminent, he says his goal is life extension via brain transplants, that, as we age, we could have our brains transplanted into more youthful bodies. Much like putting your uploaded stack into another sleeve.

He has been seriously disputed in the scientific world, with many thinking this will never be a possibility. Plus what of the ethics, will they become insane when they wake with a new body, who are you if someone else's DNA is running through you, where does the soul reside?

So, more youthful bodies, transplant of memories and personality, frozen for an indefinite amount of time to be brought back to life, all adds up to the human desire for immortality.

Everyone thinks they aren’t going to die, it’s something we actively don’t talk about. Death, especially in the West is becoming more hidden - children often don’t attend funerals, if someone says their relative has died we don’t know what to say or how to react, the whole concept and process has become awkward and secret.

Maybe now isn’t the time to think of the sci-fi future that many shows promise, but to have frank and open discussions about what we want to happen after we die, and ways that this could maybe advance science in positive ways.

This week, organ donation laws in England are being debated which would see everyone becoming a donor unless they explicitly register an objection.

Organ donations in the UK usually only take place with a loved one’s consent but even when a person is a registered donor, 1,200 families a year refuse to allow donation. Could this be the lack of knowledge of the process, the refusal to discuss wishes with loved ones, that strange concept we have of needing to be whole, that we will be truly dead. Presumed consent could save 500 lives a year, but the issue has been raised that maybe it would be better to educate people on what actually happens and bereaved families to be better informed.

There are currently seven body farms in the USA. These facilities study corpses decomposition rate in a variety of settings. The research helps solve questions pertaining to death that could have been left unanswered in the past.

Studying these donated bodies placed on the farms helps to understand the exact date and time as well as cause of a person’s death. This will make it easier to determine the cause of a victims death, and provide justice within the situation.

You can donate your body to a body farm or to science to help people study and learn more about death and about life.

This should be the future of how we live on, by helping humanity further it’s research, helping dying people get new organs and helping the justice system better understand death, not by us personally living forever but by knowing that we helped someone else to live on.

Overcrowding of cemeteries is another issue, as is the want for embalming - over 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid are introduced into U.S. soil every year through burial, sometimes disconcertingly close to animal and plant life. Our appearance-conscious culture wants to look good, even in death, many people now requesting botox and fillers to be done after their death so they will still look great in a coffin, but it is ultimately just another toxin going into the ground.

It is estimated that about 8 percent of the more than 150,000 burials that take place in the UK each year are now natural burials, that is, biodegradable caskets instead of heavy coffins and trees instead of headstones, another alternative way to live forever.

If we make death not so scary we won’t want to be immortal, if we openly discuss it and know what our loved ones want, it may make the grieving process that tiny bit easier, that tiny bit less frightening.

With science advancing so quickly, how long until memory transplants are real, until death is obliterated. Will Altered Carbon become a reality and we live forever, or is it time to face our fears and talk about the Grim Reaper, make him a friend we welcome and not a shadow looming over us.

J.K. Rowling — 'And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly,
and, equals, they departed this life.'



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