PHT402: The last independent act?

This is my fifth contribution to a series of weekly posts related to the #pht402 Professional Ethics course. This week’s topic asks if assisted suicide is ever OK? I thought it would be an interesting question to ask health care professionals and students what they thought about the possibility of a legal framework that enabled the possibility of assisted suicide.

dying with dignity

Until I watched this documentary that Marna shared, I believed that my thinking was pretty fixed with regards the topic of assisted suicide. Terry Pratchett explores assisted suicide as something that he is considering as a result of having Alzheimers. It’s a wonderful video that is at times sad and at times uplifting and empowering. What I liked most about the documentary was that several different alternatives were explored. It didn’t feel like an advert for Dignitas and didn’t try to glorify the act of assisted dying. I felt it was an honest and authentic exploration of the topic, which made me think that perhaps I’m not as committed as I thought I was.

cq4e889cf3However, instead of getting into the details of the topic and considering that this is the last week of the course, I’m going to cheat a bit and dodge this last topic. Perhaps what I offer instead will be a bit more provocative and off-the-beaten-track. In a few years time many of the questions that were raised around assisted dying will be replaced by others that are no less controversial – probably more so. I believe that in a few years we’ll figure out a way to cheat death, either through finding a cure for aging (see video below) and most other illnesses through the medical application of nanotechnology, or by moving our minds from a carbon-based substrate (i.e. a brain) to a silicon-based substrate (i.e. a computer). So, I’m not worried about losing the function of my physical body. It’s my mind that is most important to me and I hope that by the time my body is ready to go (assuming we haven’t cured aging by then) I’ll have a chance to upload my mind onto another platform.

4 thoughts on “PHT402: The last independent act?”

  1. Hi Naom. Thanks for the comment. You and your spouse must have some really interesting conversations 🙂 To be honest, I’m less familiar with the theoretical assumptions around aging than with the integration of technology and our physical bodies to enhance and extend life. I also have no doubt that these interventions are far from coming to fruition, but I continue to hope that it happens in my lifetime. I have a lot of optimism and faith in the ability of science and technology to improve our lives. Assuming of course that the tools of science are used by well-meaning humans. Thanks for the link to the aging article. I’ll definitely check it out.

  2. Hi Wendy. I find the idea of replicating consciousness in machines to be quite fascinating but of course no-one really knows how / if that will play out. What I find most interesting is that the idea is taken seriously enough that there are plenty of really smart people working on the problems that may arise. For example, can you own property if you have no body? If you delete someone’s consciousness from a machine, is that murder? So much of our social, legal, economic and political discourse is framed in the context of having a physical body, so in the event that that is no longer the case, we find all sorts of generally accepted assumptions falling apart. That alone is worth thinking about.

  3. Gosh, Michael, that’s an original take on the question of euthanasia!
    The possibility of relocating our minds in a computer hadn’t occurred to me to be a reality, but I suppose we are getting closer to it. I can’t honestly say it appeals to me: somehow it seems rather scary to live on after your body, so at the moment I think I’d rather perish with my flesh. But I admire your courage and optimism in wanting to “upload your mind onto another platform.”

  4. Hi Michael, great post. It so happens that my spouse is a neurosciantict and is working in the NIA (National Institute on Aging) his research focuses on molecular biology in the brain and the effect on aging and neurodegenerative diseases and he is also working on stem cell therapy has part of his research. So aging is “on the news” in our house, more than it should be expected for people in their thirties.
    Unfortunately, we are far from living very long life with good quality (and good quality I believe is very important if we are going to live longer). There are many aging diseases which we haven’t even known about a few years ago when the average life span was shorter and I guess we will discover new diseases when life will get longer. Aubrey de Grey has a great theory but it is far from being proved. Today the leading theory for expanding our life is using diet http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2622429/ this is a review on the subject written by my husband’s boss.
    Love the idea of having my brain in another so called “body”
    May we all live long and happy life,
    Cheers,
    Noam.

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