When Death Becomes Optional

Thomas Frey's picture

When Death Becomes Optional 602

The year is 2032. You have just celebrated your 80th birthday and you have some tough decisions ahead. You can either keep repairing your current body or move into a new one.

The growing of “blank” bodies has become all the rage, and by using your own genetic material, body farmers can even recreate your own face at age 20.

In just 20 years, this is an industry that has moved from the equivalent of Frankenstein’s laboratory to the new celebrity craze, with controversy following it every step of the way.

The combination of a few high profile “accidents” along the way, coupled with those in the religious community who claim that body farmers are playing God, and asking “where does our soul reside?” has given it thousands of top media headlines around the world.

Every person on the planet has a different opinion about this moral dilemma, or whether its safe or dangerous, or whether we should just get better at repairing our existing bodies.

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

Tough Choices Ahead

In the coming years we will find ways to fix human aging, cure diseases, find solutions for deviant behaviors, and even rebuild people after an accident.

In short, no person should ever need to die… EVER!

Is that our goal? Is that the direction we are headed in? If that’s not our goal, then we will need to hear the pro-death arguments, and why people should die when they don’t have to.

Is the goal of the medical community to improve health, or to completely eradicate health problems? In Star Trek terms, what is the prime directive for the health profession?

In the years ahead we will have an unbelievable number of tough choices to make.

Dealing with the Issues

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. Here is a small slice of the issues that will surely rise to the top.

For trauma cases, the medical profession will be grappling with the ethics of making simple repairs versus making better, longer lasting humans. These questions no longer belong to the realm of science fiction. In a few years, we will be able to replace our frail parts with parts that are made of superior materials. Recent medical accomplishments include everything from re-growing bladders and throats to using 3D printers to “print” new bones and arteries. Entire body replication can’t be far behind.

We may have to ask if the path we’ve taken to this point in medical history has come too quickly. Have we really absorbed the impact of what these changes will mean for society?

We have wrestled with certain ethical questions, sometimes for centuries. Some issues that are clearly outrageous in our in minds today, such as 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? 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 shed 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? And more importantly, who will pay for it?

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 Death Row Question

Question: You find yourself on a jury, deciding the fate of some heinous criminal, such as Ted Bundy or Josef Mengele. You have the choice of either sentencing him to the electric chair or to total amnesia. Which would you decide?

Total amnesia involves wiping the brain clean and the people will have to start over from scratch, relearning how to walk, talk, and even how to feed themself all over again.

The question is a good one because it gets to the essence of what we value in human life. Do we value the life itself or the personality that exemplifies it?

I’ve asked this question of many groups, all of whom gave me different answers and different reasons for justifying their thoughts.

My favorite answer came from my son Kyler when he was 11 years old. After thinking about it for a while, he said, “I don’t think amnesia is a good idea because people will still hate him and he won’t know why.”

Definition of Death

So what exactly constitutes death? If we can somehow preserve our mind digitally by uploading it onto the Internet, are we still alive? If we upload our essence into a machine, such as a sophisticated cyborg, are we still alive?

Will insurance companies of the future have different policies for “death of the body” and “death of the mind?”

Will the funeral industry offer different options for “burying the body” and “saying farewell to the mind?”

The religious community will certainly be wrestling with issues surrounding the parting of the soul. When does it occur and how can we tell?

Is it even possible to come up with a comprehensive definition of death that covers all future variables?

The End of the End

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, those great achievements took centuries. Today, breakthroughs are arriving at greater speed and accelerating to the point where barriers to near-term 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. Online, science accomplishments are building on other 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?

Final Thoughts

Knowing what you know today, but suddenly living on with the body of a 20 year old, doesn’t that sound magical? Wouldn’t that be the perfect solution?

But what if there was a catch. What if it cost $1 million for your new body, and you somehow had to qualify to be a candidate?

Ironically, we may end up with protests, even killings, if new bodies were only for the rich and famous.

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 may well be the last where death is not optional. 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?

About the author: Thomas Frey is the innovation editor for THE FUTURIST magazine. Meet Dr. Frey at WorldFuture 2012 in Toronto this July.


... that we declare war on death

Dear Mr. Frey.
Either we're crazy or everyone else is...
Seriously, I appreciate everything you suggest here. Just a great article which I will post on my site.
In memory of my father, I too suggested a similar effort.
Hope you get a chance to read it.
It's titled 'The Only Enemy' and is at:
Would love to hear your opinion about it.
Thank You.
Good Luck & Good Health
F. William Houraney

Very Inspiring!

To make this Perfect: We should stop thinking in Terme of "Declaring war" on something. Death needs to be transcended as a Concept and solved as a Specific Problem. Many Others will be very emotional about the very Idea - so we have to be the ones who are the Most clear headed and rational about it.

And we will *solve* this Problem. The uploading issue might Take a Bit longer but there is Zero reason to believe that Life Extension and lifespan prolonging Gene modification Cant be very Real industries 15 years from now. Especially if global awareness of the Mere possibilty rises and serious funding starts pouring in. Just think about it: 50% of the global military Budget spent on solving death instead of Creating more of it. We'd be aging-free before 2020!

We Need, However, to Create Self-sustaining, ecologically feasible abundance of living neccesities for everyone at the Same time.

"caps have been proudly f'd up by apple's autocorrection"

Some answers

You pose a lot of questions. I'd like to offer some answers.

"The question... gets to the essence of what we value in human life. Do we value the life itself or the personality that exemplifies it?"

I expect the answer is that we value life itself, but not all lives equally. In particular, most of us value our own lives especially, and usually those of a few others. I must say I don't value my children's personality types, I value them.

What really caught my attention here is an issue I have discussed elsewhere. You write:

"If we can somehow preserve our mind digitally by uploading it onto the Internet, are we still alive? If we upload our essence into a machine, such as a sophisticated cyborg, are we still alive?

"Will insurance companies of the future have different policies for “death of the body” and “death of the mind?”
"The religious community will certainly be wrestling with issues surrounding the parting of the soul. When does it occur and how can we tell?""

"Mind"..."essence"..."soul". Your transition between these suggests that really they all mean the same thing, some thing that is separable from the body and transferable to some other object or "embodiment" as people say. You might as well stick to using the word "soul," since the thing referred to is clearly some entity whose unique existence is substantiated not by physical matter or energy but some other substance unknown to science, yet which, we are to understand, constitutes the true, unique person, distinct from the mere "body."

For those of us who don't believe in spooks, the body must be all there is of the person (apart from property, works, relationships, and other things which, strictly speaking, are not part of the person at all, but external to him/her). The body must therefore comprise all that the person is, including whatever meaning can be attached to words like "mind", "essence" and "soul". Thus, whatever these words do refer to cannot be something that is removable from the body and transferable to another body, of whatever form.

You are your body, your body is your life, your mind, your essence, your soul. Body and soul are one thing only.


In many religions the bodyis not the essence but merely the vessel. The very debate here has been floating around for years since the first Star Trek transporter show wherein the computer disassemles the body and sends the INFORMATION to the destination computer where an exact copy is reprodced including everything in the mind. So, is that the same person/soul that comes out on the other end ? Or does the soul die and the copy only hold all the memorys etc., as in transferring information from one hsrd drive or the other and, does it matter.?

People unlimited

You are right that it takes something to overcome death and opening to the possibility is the first step. Changing the death paradigm impacts every aspect of life, culture and social interaction. Deeper personal connections, joy and a treasuring of the human body are all ready happening as we end disease, poverty and death.

Over Optimism

As a regular reader of www.fightaging.org I am pretty familiar with the ongoing science which suggests strongly that rejuvenation and anti-aging therapies that genuinely work can and should be created. BUT...
The funds needed to actually do this work is not forthcoming as of yet. The SENS foundation and projects are getting tiny amounts of money compared to much more pedestrian and underwhelming efforts. The grand wizards of tech such as Bill Gates et al have been shockingly stingy in financing these efforts, preferring instead the PR of other projects.

At the current pace, twenty years from now will be lackluster. You are -in my humble and layman's opinion- overstating the future in 2032 and underestimating the barriers. They are mainly financial and cultural. The faith that humans place in death and it's "rightness" has enormous amounts of inertia underlying it. Overcoming this and the ensuing financial challenges for the true research (Such as SENS...) will not be easy. Kurzweil regularly has dinner with the likes of Bill Clinton and other world leaders. But the SENS effort (Perhaps the best in the world.) goes begging. Awareness of the science is minimal and often disparaged. The small bits about it are already turned into class warfare narratives by certain people but mainly ignored.

I enjoy your writing but it seems very out of touch with the harsh facts that are easy to see daily at fight aging.org. The science is possible. The therapies could be developed. But is there money? Nope. I wish for these to be developed and for so much suffering to be ended. But how you reach this state of affairs in twenty years is hard for me to fathom.

Anyway. With respect,


We shouldn't need to say "who

We shouldn't need to say "who will pay for this" just "Do we have the capability and resources?" Until we drop the concept of money none of this will happen except perhaps for the wealthy...


Rethinking the inevitable

Thanks Dr Frey for presenting these very pertinent dilemmas. In my opinion, technology and social connectivy are the greatest inventions of all time - greater than the wheel and fire, and certainly greater than the printing press. We are not just creating tools anymore, we are transforming as humans. Everything you discuss is very real and more, maybe not in the time frame you propose but definitely on the horizon. We seek to find answers to transformative dilemmas using the same reasoning skills we had in 'pre-transformation' times. It is true that the social repurcussions will be staggering, so we must find new ways to communicate and evaluate, and we must be able to present it in a way understandable to all, or risk perpetual civil conflict. Maybe 'rethinking the invetible' is not only just the questions of the elimination of life's horrors. As we re-shape our bodies and debate the ethics of self-destiny, might we also re-consider and re-shape our version of self, our relationship to each other, and the significance of our impact? The double-edged sword of profit is the current fundamental motivator for this breathtaking expansion. On one side it drives us to perfection and gives us cause to try. On the other is divides us and fosters mutual hate, distrust, and a supreme waste of resources. The new 'inevitable' cannot flourish with old, 'pre-transformation' thought.

Purchasing Farmed Bodies

We'll have to make it a two-fer deal. The buyer will have to buy two bodies: one for personal use and one for someone else. That someone else would be chosen by a lottery or some fair, random way. Rather than an 'unfair tax', this could be seen as a way for the rich and famous to keep their new purchases safe from the 'eat the rich' crowd -- buying a little security for their new investment.

I can't wait.

More issues to our long list

Great article Mr. Frey,

Two additional questions may rise up for our scenario:

- Will the personal option for not living forever to be considered a suicide?

- The main reason for our "animal" reproduction system is to reproduce ourselves through a new generation of humans. In the future, will we stop having kids or even eradicate human reproduction, which will also relieve our resource consumption problems?


Marcos Bernd

Time Enough For Love

Many of your musings have already been put to print. If this topic continues to interest you, may I refer you to Robert Heinlein's 1973 book, "Time Enough For Love." If you can stomach his views on polyamorous families and incest, Heinlein covers the benefits and consequences of living thousands of years, as the main character, Lazarus Long, is 2000+ years old. As you can imagine, Lazarus has done everything on his "bucket list," and contemplates what left there is to live for. It is one of Heinlein's "future history" series.

death is an option

Frank Herbert also wrote of such things in his "Dune" series. He called them gholas {ghouls} who had to be trumatically re-awakened to regain past memories.

The Bible says it is appointed unto Man once to die and after that {death} comes judgment. Thus, it is currently not an option. Death was only overcome by Jesus Christ and is the last enemy He will destroy. Man can try all he wants, but it is a fruitless quest. Only through belief in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ will anyone overcome death. Being "born-again" only comes this way.

Article was interesting though.


stopping death and going the mile to make it happen

One major step in the long term directive is underway, almost, and that is the movement for indefinite life extension. The official launch of it is set for July. The guide to the movement for indefinite life extension is currently preparing at tinyurl dot com slash themileguide .
Your whole article is important for thinking about the future and getting this into peoples minds more (we are what we think about) but I agree with you that this line is especially important:
"if death is no longer viewed as inevitable, our attitude towards life will shift dramatically." People need to understand that this is possible. We need to quash the hordes of pessimists and knee jerk reactionists that wish to appear intellectual by constantly taking the negative approach, the approach to why everything sucks and is terrible and impossible. We need to put them in their place because when we allow the world to understand this is possible, then, and only then, will they fight for this cause with the determination necessary to see about bringing about the actualization of this goal of indefinite life extension in our lifetimes. In our lifetimes, that is of course of the essence. We are fighting here for our lives, and those most adapted to survive will join in on getting it done.