Killing off death will require research and clinical trials. But these may be difficult to do ethically, as a controversial attempt to reanimate brain-dead patients suggests.
Philadelphia-based biotech firm Bioquark told STAT that it plans to begin a trial somewhere in Latin America within months. The idea is to inject the patient’s own stem cells into the spinal cord to stimulate the growth of neurons. Other therapies could accompany this — an injected blend of peptides, electrical nerve stimulation, and laser therapy for the brain.
As STAT points out, a description of the trial begs many questions. Who decides whether the patient is actually brain dead? How can a dead person participate in a trial? What happens if they do recover and are significantly impaired? Are the researches toying the hopes of families? Even in Latin America, will they get ethical approval?
Scientists and bioethicists are sceptical. Last year bioethicist Art Caplan and neuroscientist Ariane Lewis wrote a blunt editorial denouncing the Bioquark trial as “quackery”.
Dead means dead. Proposing that DNC may not be final openly challenges the medical-legal definition of death, creates room for the exploitation of grieving family and friends and falsely suggests science where none exists.
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Dr Charles Cox, a pediatric surgeon in Houston who works with stem cells, was even more sceptical. “I think [someone reviving] would technically be a miracle,” he said. “I think the pope would technically call that a miracle.”
However, Bioquark’s CEO, Ira Pastor, responded that the idea was daring, but possible. He points out that there are dozens of cases of patients, mostly young one, who recovered after being brain-dead. “Such cases highlight that things are not always black or white in our understanding of the severe disorders of consciousness.”
The experiment is part of Pastor’s Reanima project, which he describes in transhumanist terms on various websites.
It is now time to take the necessary steps to provide new possibilities of hope, in order to counter the pain, sorrow, and grief that is all too pervasive in the world when we experience a loved one’s unexpected or untimely death, due to lesions which might be potentially reversible with the application of promising neuro-regeneration and neuro-reanimation technologies and therapies.