No person should ever die… EVER!

Is that our goal? Is that the direction we are headed in?

Futurist and author Ray Kurzweil is convinced an end to disease and possibly death by trauma may be here in a matter of decades. He’s taking vitamins like they are candy on a personal quest for the ultimate prize, immortality.

Kurzweil and others have been talking about the possibilities of vastly extended life spans for more than a few years now. The questions that come with these considerations are jarring. And, these questions deserve a thorough look to be sure, because radical, species-altering change is what is on the table. We should consider this prospect very carefully in the largest possible context.

We should ask the first question. Is the goal of the medical community to improve health, or to completely eradicate health problems? In Star Trek speak: What we are talking about is a prime directive.

According to the World Health Organization, the top 20 causes of death are:

  1. Cardiovascular disease
  2. Infectious and parasitic diseases
  3. Ischemic heart disease
  4. Cancer
  5. Stroke
  6. Respiratory infections
  7. Lower respiratory tract infections
  9. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  10. Perinatal conditions (around the time of birth)
  11. Digestive diseases
  12. Diarrheal diseases
  13. Intentional injuries (Suicide, Violence, War, etc)
  14. Tuberculosis
  15. Malaria
  16. Lung cancers
  17. Road traffic accidents
  18. Childhood diseases
  19. Neuropsychiatric disorders
  20. Diabetes mellitus

It becomes an interesting exercise to look closely at each cause of death and think through not only how to reduce its influence, but how to eliminate it completely. With this analysis comes a vast spectrum of additional questions. The following discussion is but a slice.

For trauma cases, the medical profession soon will be grappling with the ethics of making simple repairs versus making better, longer lasting humans. Futurists say these questions no longer belong to the realm of science fiction. In a matter of decades, we can replace our frail parts with parts that are made of superior materials. Juan Enriquez points to recent medical accomplishments that include re-growing bladders and throats. Entire body replication can’t be far behind.

We may have to ask if the route to this point in medical history was too quick. Have we really absorbed the impact of what these changes will mean for society?

We wrestle with ethical questions for sometimes centuries. So clear in our in minds today as outrageous, slavery had to be abolished at the point of a gun in this nation. Now we are about to be presented with the question: Will we become something else? There is this, too: Do we have a right to live indefinitely, or is it a privilege?

Life, death and years of painful adjustment, all can be avoided. Families will be spared the emotional turmoil of deciding life and death for the brain damaged. The horribly burned can re-grow and slough off their charred skin.

In a nation where health care is afforded to some, but not all, are we prepared to take on such questions as to who lives forever?

The prisons and jails are strained. Science may even address the morally and mentally challenged. Is it realistic to think we can fix the underlying behavioral issues, turn criminals into productive, well-intentioned people? Should they live forever, too?

The end of the end

As medical advances continue, and we devise an entirely new range of health-enhancing options, I propose a new standard. The bar should be set very high, the highest possible. I propose we put an end to human death.

In a society so technologically advanced, financing such a seemingly stratospheric goal is possible. Resulting innovations will more than offset the scales of cost.

Let’s play a game of “what if.” What if we could turn our attention from fixing problems of the past to pondering a new kind of future? What if we could become possessed with a genuine interest in advancing our evolution as a society?

I propose something quite radical in today’s world – that we declare war on human death.

In the past, advances for cures for even minor diseases moved glacially. From Leeuwenhoek’s invention of the microscope in the late 1600s to Louis Pasteur’s discovery of germs the great achievement took centuries. Today, breakthroughs are arriving at greater speed and accelerating to the point where barriers to near immortality are falling daily.

The most dramatic advancements have been seen in the quickening speed of communication, and the spread of knowledge across the Internet. Breakthroughs are commonplace. Headlines are no longer headlines. Online, science accomplishment is building on accomplishments as never before. Virtual collaboration has led to global teaming. As information speeds to all corners of the world, the approaches to solving some of our most perplexing problems have multiplied.

Warring with human death requires a far different mindset.  The current trend of paying to live is not the model for defeating death. Here are a few examples of the hurdles that would have to fall:

  • Redefining Aging – Humans will need to be re-engineered to stop the aging process at around 25 years of age when bodies are in their peak condition. Humans could live indefinitely at the peak of health.
  • Keen Minds – Human mental condition deteriorates as brain cell death takes its toll. Scientists have discovered a replicating switch in individual optic and brain cells that for some reason is turned off soon after birth. Throwing the switch back on is in the cards. Epilepsy, blindness and dementia will be relegated to the past.
  • Accidents – Yes, accidents are inevitable. Is it reasonable to think that all can survive accidents?
  • Mangled Bodies – Should we rebuild bodies that become hopelessly damaged by today’s standards? Falling into a wood chipper or stepping in front of a steam roller need not be fatal. Is it possible to reassemble the body and reinstall memories?
  • Terminal Illness – Can we put an end to viral and bacterial diseases that ravage our bodies from within? Will pathogens become harmless artifacts? With the advent of blood-roaming nanobots, the future will be bleak for the little animals that ravage bodies. Cancer will be forgotten.
  • Criminal Minds – Are evil people really worth saving, even if they can be reformed? Science has barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding the brain. Is it possible to live in a placid society that has forgotten the fear of crime by sociopaths and others lumped under the rubric of the criminally insane?
  • End of War – We will always have conflict. So, how do we resolve such disputes among societies that no longer know or appreciate the meaning of death? If war becomes convenient and non-traumatizing, can it be loathed as it is today?
  • Death as a Motivator – Nothing motivates like the anticipation of a deadline. With no fear of death, what will become of our humanity? With no need to appreciate death, what becomes of the forces that drove generations to confront such weighty matters as meaning and challenge? Will our imperatives lose their potency, even disappear? Will we pursue achievement in the absence of these possibly extinct drives?

These may seem like distant concerns. But change is coming ¬– this time, at lightning speed. We don’t have the luxury of mulling such matters for decades.

Most importantly, if death is no longer viewed as inevitable, our attitude towards life will shift dramatically.

Our generation could be the last. Though the challenges seem overwhelming, I believe this is the time to establish a long-term directive, a prime directive for all – the end of human death.

Even if it’s not achievable, shouldn’t it still be our goal?

By Thomas Frey and Raymond Alvarez

6 Responses to “Declaring War on Human Death”

Comments List

  1. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Jeff Samson</a>

    NO Death! Tom, Now, that's an answer for space travel and getting to the far reaches! This is an interesting topic and your thoughts are one set of a number of options for future life. Not that this topic can also go to the concept of an eternal soul and brings notions of reincarnation though that’s not necessarily important to the discussion at this point. This discussion on "no death" should include the definition of what constitutes death. For example, one concept involves just the mind being kept alive and growing external to the body. This mind may be taught to control a fresher body/machine and so the original body may be considered dead or at least temporary. However the mind’s thought system would be considered alive if it can continue to have experiences, make decisions and affect action beyond the limitations of the current body. Writing computer code for controlling systems and memory storage capabilities suggest that saving and empowering such a life essence may be easier to accomplish then complete body brain renovation. Therefore, body reconstruction may be a temporary relief from body limitations but an awkward process for sustainability. Where as sustaining the mental controls and values might be more efficacious. This option and other definitions for what constitutes “no death” will likely impact your list above and may even provide significant benefits in addressing the items on that list. I would enjoy discussing life form extension/transcendence further in the interest of deriving reasonable goals for the near future. Jeff Samson
  2. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Jeff Prystupa</a>

    Man has uprooted himself from his host planet and is suffering the loss of power and vitality. Issues of health, incomplete health, impaired health, loss of health, and death, need to be re-framed in a more modern, less superstitious-based order and protocol. What definition of death will be employed? This will require socio-medical ethical debate which is unlikely to escape the taint of religious input. Is death the point at which organ donation becomes acceptable? If death is signaled by the end or cessation of two standard indicators of life; a heartbeat and brain waves, does life begin with the onset of the same? Both are present 28 days post fertilization. Does this definition of death impact the definition of life as applied to abortion? Will the oak tree live forever? Is the average life of the average human so tremendously fruitful and productive that we feel compelled to wring a few more years out of it? What is the motivation to live forever? Is there a market for it? "Push me near the window today, nurse. It looks like a nice day outside." Far more pressing than eternal life, are the present questions about exterminating life. Our planet simply can not tolerate continued pollution from burning coal and petroleum. Pan evaporation rates, not temperature, are the most reliable indicator for climate change. The major causes of death and disease are man-made and self-inflicted. The damage being done to the Earth is mirrored in the health of its inhabitants. The whales are starving in the Pacific. Medicine misleads by mistaking infection for toxicity. Man is being presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Simply avoiding death does not mean one is living. To the extent that man remains uprooted from his host planet, he is sick. To the degree that he repairs and strengthens his roots, he will experience growth and fruitfulness. The corrections needed for climate change response and all others, must take place within us all as individuals first then we can tend to the planet. If we sit back and let the government attempt to solve yet another problem they created, we will continue to observe the migratory flight of individual freedoms. Those who would trade security for freedom will enjoy neither. (B. Rush) Death does not exist until life begins. We need not wait and ask for whom the bell tolls, but rather dance until the music stops.
  3. Dominic T

    I just started reading your views today. Interesting. I was thinking, Through evolution, the human mind did not have to know how to apreciate and enjoy life indefinatly. And along side that, many people start running into a grove as they age that closes the world around them. Perhaps that might be the biggest chalenge. Maybe we could simply re-boot every hundred years with very little, or selective memory crossing over.
  4. Nigel Deighton

    Well, I guess several billion people around the world who believe what their preachers tell them already think that there is life after death. So another important question to consider "Is life as we know it merely a preparation for a next step".........alright so far no cell phone calls from the hereafter saying "being" is great here. Begs another question..............can we technically redefine life........actually apart from the brainwave and hearbeat..........since memories, thought processes and many other aspects of "what and who we are" could potentially be saved and allowed to live in a virtual world ...... potentially at far less TCO than keeping the physical bodies of billions of people well nourished, oiled and ready to run a marathon. The whole arguement to me seems to brainwave and heart beat....linked to a physical enevelope which has adequately proven its "disposable" killing and regrowing billions of cells/year. One victorian gentleman seriously proposed that the British Patent Office be closed "because nothing new would be invented".............since then mankind has probably mutiplied its knowledge and understand of "things" by thousands of times. And on the S shaped curve of learning we are not even asymptotic to vertical. One year of invention, innovation and understanding the fabric of "things" today is already several centuries at Arabic/Greek/Roman/Sino-Japanese speed............and it will continue to accelerate (though a pessimist may say until we really screw up....if that is not already the case, mother nature has been giving increasingly severe warnings). Everyones' brains already work in an abstract layer caused by the sensory and physical capacities of their envelopes (bodies). Your "persona" lives with a physical barrier to what we consider to be the real world........if you believe in "reality"!!!! So transferring that persona into a virtual body should eventually become which point you have not declared war on have declared that there is life after death. And possibly opened the door to allowing folks with split or multiple personalities to achieve the maximum for all involved. Some interesting research on how meditation allows folks to "illuminate" connections between the sides of the brain in similar ways to autistic folks with considerable "gifts" and on imaging from brain activities when folks look at photos/videos is showing interesting insights. So my advice would be to declare "The Triumph of Life" rather than the "War on Death". Oh, and let's not forget the genetic mixing machine just yet.

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