The Right to Life…Even After Death
I’ve got the perfect present for my wife – it’s my brain in a bottle. Of course, she’ll have to wait until I’m done using it, but, just think about it, she’ll finally have my undivided attention. I’ll just put the gift in my will, and pay for the cryonics procedure with my life insurance policy. At just $80,000, neuropreservation is a small price for my eternal loving presence. As soon as the technology is available, my wife can have my 10 billion neurons scanned, analyzed, converted into computer code and uploaded into her smartphone. Then, she can ask Siri for the facts, and she can ask me for my opinion.
“Peter, does this dress make me look fat?”
“Of course, not. You look gorgeous!” I’d say from beyond the grave. And, then, like Patrick Swayze in the movie Ghost, my 10 billion uploaded neurons would tell her, “It’s amazing Molly – I mean Tracy - the love inside you, you take it with you…in your smartphone.”
I imagine this is what motivated Kim Suozzi’s boyfriend to help her cheat death by having her brain preserved. Kim’s father said, “I can’t help you with this. We don’t live forever,” but the boyfriend found support from the Society of Venturism and the online forum Reddit to collect donations for the neuropreservation of Kim’s brain.1
I am a bit concerned about the potential downsides to neuropreservation. For example, I wonder if my wife will still have to cope with my mood swings. Will my brain still be grumpy on Mondays? Will my brain crave a glass of wine to get romantic and amorous? Will it care about the vintage? I’m guessing the answer is “yes” to all of these questions, because, well…that’s how I operate, and vintages do matter. However, I will no longer be able to use the excuse that life is too short to drink cheap wine.
Of course everything will depend on which memories my brain will remember. Will the bottling process contribute to my mental decline? Lately, I’ve come to embrace “living in the now,” not because memories are painful, but because memories are spotty and unreliable. Salman Rushdie said, “Memory selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies; but in the end it creates its own reality.”2
While they’re at it, maybe the cryonics experts and computer programmers responsible for my digital reincarnation can reconnect the million-and-a-half failed synapses I’ve accumulated over the years. Then I would not have to continue relying upon my wife to remember everything.
“We met a nine, we met at eight, I was on time, no, you were late. Ah, yes, I remember it well.”3
If my wife gets tired of me hanging around all the time, and bored with my new found ability to recollect the past with utmost accuracy, I could always go back to work. A Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 30% of retirees say they’d go back to work if given the chance.4 I would venture to guess 100% of dead people would like the chance to go back to work – even if they hated their jobs when they were alive. One thing for certain, my return from the dead would give “distance education” a whole new meaning.
“No,” I could tell my students with utmost authority, “your fiduciary duty to advocate for the patient’s best interest does trump your own personal religious beliefs.” I know this for a fact because in the 30 seconds I had at the pearly gates before my brain was put in a bottle, I asked God.
It’d be selfish to restrict the boundless attention span of a brain in a bottle to my wife and a few students. Without the limits of my biology, think of the things my brain could do to benefit mankind. I could move beyond being a patient rights advocate to an all-powerful gatekeeper with a conscience. There may be a great benefit to patients everywhere from injecting my ethical perspective, sense of compassion, and emotion into the healthcare system and medical decision-making process. I can work right alongside IBM’s Watson, on a parallel circuit so to speak, complementing the supercomputer’s evidence-based care plan with the heart of a good Samaritan. That’s assuming my right supramarginal gyrus isn’t damaged when my brain is stuffed into a bottle.
I’ve read Plato’s Ring of Gyges and know that my brain might be tempted by the dark side. What if my brain in a bottle is still susceptible to the sins of flesh – selfish ambition, jealousy, envy, greed, and anger? I must admit I do get a fiendish pleasure plinking squirrels off the birdfeeder with my son’s airsoft rifle.
So, maybe it’s best if my cerebral presence is restricted to my wife’s smartphone. Then, when she gets tired of me singing all the verses to “I’m Henry the Eighth I am,” she can just mute me.
What’s that you say Darling? You say you would simply delete me if I became a nuisance? I think not. If you do that, you’ll have to deal with D.A.N.G. – a fanatical group of right to life advocates for the “Dead And Not Gone.”
In the end, I suppose those who believe they can cheat death need to view the story of Chance 2, the clone of Ralph Fisher’s unusually tame pet brahma bull. Chance 2 turned out to be vicious and destructive. He gored Ralph in the testicle and tried to kill him.5 No, preserving my brain in bottle doesn’t guarantee the same old jovial, fun-loving Peter Holub will still be around to love my wife, teach my students, or enjoy a glass of fine wine. So, when it comes time to meet my maker, I think I’ll save the $80,000, give my wife and students a break, and finish the conversation that was so rudely interrupted at the pearly gates.
- Harmon, A. Boyfriend tries to help woman beat death. The News & Observer. 2015 Sep 13; Focus Sunday: 13A – 14A.
- Rushie, S. Midnight’s children. NY, NY: Random House; 2006.
- Lerner AJ and Loewe, F. I remember it well. Gigi; c1958.
- Reuters/Ipsos Poll. Available from: http://www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/searchresults.aspx?search=30%+retired#
- Glass, I. 2nd Chance. This American Life. c2005. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Obzfz4xEpgY
Holub P. The Right to Life…Even After Death. The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice. 2015 Oct 09;13(4), Article 2.