Or maybe not.
Using stem cells, a team of researchers at a Philadelphia based company called Bioquark hope to bring brain-dead patients back to life in a trial later this year. The controversial process has drawn curiosity, skepticism, and criticism. Stem cell research has long been scrutinized under the lens of morality and ethics – something as sensitive as death echoes in all of our cultures and is often a taboo topic that many feel uncomfortable even talking about.
Despite public perception, this will not immediately lead to some sort of zombie apocalypse. The long and complicated process uses stem cell injections and therapy to promote the growth of new nerve cells. The process also has a number of technical and legal challenges. Declaring brain death is a difficult task, and brain-dead patients cannot give informed consent.
This could be the beginning of a new treatment that might become commonplace in all hospitals. Cheating death, at least in some cases, could one day be as easy as tapping the right buttons on a keyboard.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West – Reanimator,” the protagonists are archetypal mad scientists – hubristic, out of their depths, toying with natural laws they could never understand.
Death is not only a topic that can lead to debates about morality, but invites metaphysics as well. Is brain-death truly death, and at what point does someone truly die? Is there a soul, and when does it leave the body? If it does leave the body, can it come back? What if brain-dead patients became fully aware after an experimental procedure, but the researchers didn’t realize it?
In the novel Johnny Got His Gun, a maimed and invalid soldier must bang his head against the pillow in morse code to beg the nurses to euthanize him. What if, trapped in their own bodies, the patient’s conscious mind was unable to communicate with the outside world?