The Biotech Death
According to Philippe Aries throughout history death has undergone 3 main transitional periods. During the 6th and early 12th century, death was believed to be a collective destiny of all human beings. Individuals were also more concerned about the death of others over their own. This is mainly due to the lack of medical resources and societies limited knowledge on how to prevent death. During the 12th and 17th century however the concern around death was centring more around our mortality than the death of others, death has now become a personal experience.
The fear of death is far more common now than it was in the 12th century, perhaps that can be attributed to people’s lack of knowledge of what may become of them after death or even the very fear of being insignificant in the eyes of death. There is a natural understanding that the loss of a loved one creates great bereavement, this has been recorded as throughout history, however, fear of death for ourselves is a relatively modern conception. Our love and thirst to live have driven us not only to expand ourselves in the medical field but has also brought us to research real, physical, medical ways to completely eradicate death and bring about an immortal human race. The ethical implications of such feet are enormous, including the biological capacity of the earth to host such a race, and a change in the nature of life.
Perhaps our fear or understanding of death is what drives us to live as we do. By changing the nature of death we are in turn uprooting the fabric of our life in a way we can only speculate of, as none of us can speak to immortal beings. Not only must we speculate and try to philosophically understand what would become of us in the era of “the death of death itself”, but we must also look into what death is? How do we define life and what would be considered immortality? The ancient Egyptians considered their dead to be immortal, and in today’s concept, people or to be cryogenically frozen in the hope of freeing themselves from death. Being physically alive is far different from being mentally alive. Which would we consider as more important and is it possible to preserve both?
At the end of the day, our medical advancement allowed us to greatly increase our lifespan and destroy certain diseases that would have otherwise caused our species grave damage. Medical researchers consider death not to be a natural phenomenon but a disease that can be “treated”. If we use our intellect and technological abilities to recreate man beyond death, what would the future human look like? Are we entering a new realm of Transhumanism and living with bodies that has more metal than our own flesh? which means we need to start re-evaluating our understanding of life and looking at our bodies as a mechanism, much like a machine, that can be upgraded, enhanced and replaced… however, the outcome and impact on us as a race would be unfathomable. Would this circumvent death, or would death evolve with us, taking on a new meaning and understanding? According to Foucault in his passage on the right of death and power over life, he talks about how death is power’s limit, “death is so carefully evaded is linked less to a new anxiety which makes death unbearable for our societies than to the fact that the procedures of power have not ceased to turn away from death”
In a world without death would death survive by another name? After all, with the eradication of the world's most dangerous diseases, we have always come across others that seem equally fatal. With the eradication of the disease of death would a far deadlier one evolve with us?
Few questions I would like to eventually explore within this topic
1) Within our current cultural context how does humanity define death, and what are the ethical implications of biotechnology aiming to circumvent death.
2) To what extent will we as a society try to preserve the memories of our loved ones, while memorials,rituals and sharing stories of the deceased has become a common phenomena, preserves the data of the dead in order recreate their personality is raising ethical questions.
3) How are experts trying to halt and reverse death and how is this challenging the very ideas and notions on the nature of death itself.
4) Historically, what were the tools and methods used to determine one as “dead”? How has that changed over time and how do we measure the “death of an individual today? What are the tools that provide us with biological transmittance that allow others to measure if another is “dead” or “near death” ,including those that track internal signals that are tracked by machines? How will biotechnology further change our measurement of ones “deadness”.
5) Being physically alive is far different from being mentally alive. Which would we consider as more important and is it possible to preserve both?