Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sonja Henie's tutu, wait till the Bible thumpers start cogitating on this . . .

At some unknown day in the next couple of weeks (most likely) surgeons in Pittsburgh will put a human into a state between life and death, I suppose you could say. An undefined state. Heisenberg's cat. I don't know what to call it.

Right now, if your heart isn't beating and you don't have any measurable brain activity, Jack you dead. But . . . this is because a person in that state, ordinarily, has had ongoing metabolic activity while the brain was deprived of oxygen. Brain cells can only survive a couple of minutes in that situation. But, if the body is really cold, metabolic activity slows way down. You may have heard of seemingly miraculous cases of people falling through the ice, being pulled out after an hour or so, and recovering. (Follow the link if you want a fuller explanation.)

So, a few years back Dr. Hasan Alam in Michigan did some experiments with pigs. (If you are a PETA member or sympathizer, you might want to round up your posse right now.) He sedated them and then gave them horrific injuries, equivalent to multiple gunshot wounds. Then he drained all of their blood and replaced it with cold salt water. Then he fixed the injuries. Then he gradually reperfused them with blood. They recovered.

So, next chance they get, a team in Pittsburgh will try this on a human being, who comes in with massive blood loss and cardiac arrest. They figure they'll have as much as two hours to operate and fix all the bleeding points, during which time the person will have no heartbeat, no blood, and no measurable brain activity. But, their brain cells will still be alive, just operating at a greatly reduced metabolic level, as will their other cells. Heating them up slowly enough will avoid injuries, presumably.

Now, let's be clear. People who are currently ruled to be brain dead really are dead because you can't do this. It's too late, their brains have been deprived of oxygen for too long while they were warm. But this does somewhat complicate the definition of death. Oh yeah -- suppose these people report all sorts of hallucinatory experiences, which I expect they will, at least some of them. I don't even want to think about the idiotic discussions we are about to have.

(If you got the people even colder, could you stow them away for years while they journeyed to the stars? You'd need some sort of antifreeze but if that could be worked out, maybe, sure why not?)


mojrim said...

You are half of why I chose this profession.

Cervantes said...

What's your profession?