Ever since the beginning of its existence, humankind has been chasing the dream of immortality. The reason why is an easy guess: we are the only living creatures aware of our own mortality. Until a few months ago, it had been a mere philosophical idea, but now this wish has moved from a “metaphysical” level to a real one. With the help of new technologies, some American doctors have gone beyond simply finding the long-life gene. Their – not very virtuous – goal is resurrecting the dead.
The Government of the United States has approved this research project, developed by US Biotech Company Bioquark Inc. What is more, medical authorities have granted the above mentioned company permission to recruit (with special permission from the families) 20 patients who are clinically dead, following a traumatic brain injury. They will administer several combined therapies to the bodies, such as injections of stem cells and peptides. Patients, kept alive by machines, will be constantly monitored for several months. Their brain will be screened in search of signs of regeneration.
The head of the team, Dr. Ira Shepherd, said that if it were to happen, brain regeneration would (obviously) erase all the memories and the patient’s history. Their mind will begin from scratch again. A medical project that has nothing to do with the romantic ideal of bringing back to life the loved ones who passed away. In this case, the latter is nothing but a body like many others, on which to try re-generating new life, reversing the death process. A slap in the face of human identity, since the brain-dead individual would no longer have her/his previous personality after re-creation.
At this point, we should logically ask ourselves the following question: whom will they regenerate? An infant (from the point of view of their brain) who will have to learn all over again? Even if they were to recover their motor skills, what would their identity be without memory? Shepherd answers that human beings in a state of brain death are technically alive (their bodies are functioning, technically speaking, even if they are kept alive artificially). If fertilized, their vital organs would be even able to carry a child. However, this way, patients become mere containers from which to draw and make life grow.
Surely, the “American Mission Frankenstein” might have also positive aspects, such as acquiring new knowledge about the brain-dead state, which might help handle coma and vegetative states, and diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Beyond the benefits for brain diseases, the whole thing begins to violate a taboo of our society: death. Man’s consciousness makes unbearable the idea of not “existing anymore” today, and people’s obsession with preventive medicine reminds us about it every day. “We are not afraid of death, but of the thought of death.” Seneca’s maxim seems more appropriate than ever at present.
If we are so afraid of death, it is probably because we no longer have anything to believe in. We have lost faith. “What is faith? It is humble faith in God,” wrote Brother Roger of Taizé. It would be good for us to find that sense of abandonment that should characterize every man. “I accepted the idea of having to die when I understood that without death, we would never be able to make an act of complete faith in God – Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said -. Actually, in every demanding choice, we always have emergency exits. Whereas death forces us to trust God entirely.”