Sunday, October 16, 2011

Say he's dead. I need his liver.

George Bilgere has poems every now and then on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac.  Whenever his name pops up, I take a look and read the poem.  So far, they are up-to-date (for a 70 year old, at least), modern, succinct and thought-provoking.  Today's poem depicts a man who is habitually observed in the coffee shop, working on his science fiction novel.  

When I read "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein, I was struck.  It was the first or second science fiction novel I read.  I was about 40 at the time and I had heard many times that some science fiction is riveting but I had not been much attracted to the subject.  The first really dramatic moment in "Stranger" did rivet me and I still remember it.  

In my work, having a specialization or two was a big help in developing enough weight in a subject matter that one felt comfortable writing and speaking about it.  One area of focus for me was the future, the future in a general broad sense.  I had read enough to know that medical science was doing some new and surprising things, such as being able to prolong life in a body much past the time when a given person would normally die.  As science fiction writers saw what was happening, they began to take notice.  As the same time, heart transplants and liver transplants and other uses of human organs were tried and tried again, until they are more successful now.  

A book I have mentioned, "Everything is Obvious, Once You Know the Answer," discusses volunteers to donate organs upon their death and says that roughly 15% of Germans volunteered while 90% of Austrians did.  Brian Christian in "The Most Human Human" makes clear what the area of organ donation and medical science can mean in the future, in just the way some science fiction writers have predicted decades ago.  If he needs a healthy liver and I have one, then if I could be declared dead without too much damage to my liver, he might get to have mine.  

Since you might not have anything to worry about, here's something.  If he has a brother or relative who loves him, to say nothing of plans to make money from "unwilling harvest", friends or suppliers might work so that I meet a definition of being dead, so that my liver can be extracted and given to him.  Thus, the general interest in the definition of "dead."

Well, it is getting toward Halloween so maybe this is timely.

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