Friday, May 6, 2016

Technical Issues: and an Apology

Sorry about this.

I have nothing ready for today.

I have spent much of this week, trying to find a way to put images in these posts: without triggering Blogger's new 'security' protocol.

Actually, I might be able to use generic images from 'secure' sites: but they would be pretty much useless as illustrations.

After, and if, I can get this issue resolved; more accurately, if my tech-savvy son comes up with a practical solution; I'll either start writing posts here. Or, more likely, take a vacation and then start writing posts.

Meanwhile, here's a link to a 'Mother's Day' post from 2014:

Sunday, May 1, 2016

When Life Isn't Ideal: "Amoris Laetitia"

Something I found on page 59 of "Amoris Laetitia"1 is an example of why I love being Catholic — common sense, drawing on the Church's experience and wisdom, developed by dealing with people for two millennia.

Some folks have been having conniptions over the encyclical: some because the Pope won't redefine marriage to suit their preferences; others, I suspect, for his failure to heap abuse on couples in " 'irregular' situations."

Instead of denouncing them as loathsome sinners who should be cast into the outer darkness, Pope Francis actually talks about "...offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God's plan for them...." ("Amoris Laetitia," page 227)

"The Validity of Certain Unions"

That's 'way ahead of where I'm at in the encyclical, though. I'm still reading through the third chapter, where I found this 'shocking' statement:
"...Canon Law also recognizes the validity of certain unions celebrated without the presence of an ordained minister.71 ..."
("Amoris Laetitia," page 59, Pope Francis)
I put a longer excerpt,2 and links to Canon Law cited in footnotes 71 and 72,3 at the end of this post.

Like I said, I love being Catholic: partly because the Church has been dealing with people for two millennia — and learning how to deal with less-than-ideal situations.

Mass and Mixed Marriages

(From John Martin, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

Marriage is a sacrament " which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life...." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601-1617, 1621-1651)

Marriage between two Roman Catholics "...normally takes place during Holy Mass...." (Catechism, 1621)

So any couple who say they're married, but aren't both Catholics, or didn't have a 'proper' wedding during Mass, aren't really married, and will burn in eternal hellfire?

I certainly won't say that, partly because I've read Luke 6:37-38, and that's another topic. (March 9, 2016; March 15, 2015)

Also because that's not what the Church says.

My wife and I were married during Mass, but I wasn't a Catholic at the time. Not on paper, anyway: although my wife once quipped that 'in my heart I have always been Catholic.'

In countries like America, where Catholics are a minority, "a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic)" is hardly uncommon. (Catechism, 1633)

We had to get "the express permission of ecclesiastical authority," but not "an express dispensation," since I was already a baptized Christian. (Catechism, 1633-1637; Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter VI, 1124; Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter III, )

I'd done the research before an interview with our parish priest. I'd been expecting a detailed examination of my beliefs, and was hoping there wouldn't be too many 'technical' questions.

The interview was a massive anticlimax. The priest asked me what I thought marriage was: and stopped me before I'd really hit my stride — asking if I thought marriage was a lifelong and exclusive bond. I didn't reply "well, DUH!," but that's how I felt.

I knew that some folks stumbled into and out of physical relationships with little or no mutual commitment: but I didn't understand why they'd bother calling it "marriage." Like my wife said, 'in my heart, I have always been Catholic.'

Banns and Disasters

Ideally, a nice young Catholic couple have their banns read, or use "other opportune means to accomplish the investigations necessary," as Canon Law 1067 puts it; have perfect weather for their wedding Mass, and live happily ever after.


We do not live in an ideal world. Weather was reasonably pleasant when my wife and I got married, but lightning with near-simultaneous thunder and a torrential downpour was in progress at a relative's wedding I attended.

Couples have faced worse, including imminent death.

Disasters, accidents, and terminal illness, happen. Couples in such situations might be reasonably certain one or both of them wouldn't survive long enough for a 'proper' marriage ceremony.

The good news is that they might still get married, if only for a short time:
"If a person competent to assist according to the norm of law cannot be present or approached without grave inconvenience, those who intend to enter into a true marriage can contract it validly and licitly before witnesses only...."
(Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter V, 1116)
The conditions where this is okay are rather limited: impending death; or a reasonable chance that the couple can't find a priest for the next month. The latter isn't likely for couples living in urban areas.

For the 250 or so folks who keep McMurdo Station running during Antarctic winters, finding a priest before an icebreaker clears a channel might be challenging.

Having clergy present is still a good idea, though:
"...In either case, if some other priest or deacon who can be present is available, he must be called and be present at the celebration of the marriage together with the witnesses, without prejudice to the validity of the marriage before witnesses only."
(Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter V, 1116)
I don't see that as being "lax." It's recognizing that a marriage is done by the two people getting married, and God:
"The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized."
(Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII, 1055)
That's pretty much what Pope Francis says:2
"...the couple who marry are the ministers of the sacrament...."
("Amoris Laetitia," page 59)
It's also an example of the common sense I mentioned earlier: my opinion.

There may be awkward situations that the Church hasn't had to deal with yet. But after two millennia, my guess is that there aren't many.

After the Wedding

Getting married is just a first step. Couples tend to become couples with children, which is a good thing: and a lot of work, which is yet another topic. (Catechism, 2201-2223)

No pressure, but here's a link to the Vatican Press online copy of "Amoris Laetitia:"
  • "Amoris Laetitia"
    Pope Francis, Vatican Press (March 18, 2016)(released April 8, 2016)
More of my take on life, love, and families:

1 I haven't finished reading "Amoris Laetitia," the Pope's encyclical about love in the family on yet. That's because I'm studying it "patiently and carefully:"
"...The greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs...."
("Amoris Laetitia," page 6, Pope Francis)
2 From "Amoris Laetitia:"
"...Canon Law also recognizes the validity of certain unions celebrated without the presence of an ordained minister.71 The natural order has been so imbued with the redemptive grace of Jesus that 'a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament'.72 The Church can require that the wedding be celebrated publicly, with the presence of witnesses and other conditions that have varied over the course of time, but this does not detract from the fact that the couple who marry are the ministers of the sacrament. Nor does it affect the centrality of the consent given by the man and the woman, which of itself establishes the sacramental bond...."
("Amoris Laetitia," page 59, Pope Francis (March 18, 2016)(released April 8, 2016))
3 Code of Canon Law, referenced in "Amoris Laetitia," page 59, footnotes 71 and 72:
  • Footnote 71
    Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter V, 1116; Book IV Part I Title VII Chapter X Art. 2, 1161-1165
  • Footnote 72
    Code of Canon Law Book IV Part I Title VII, 1055

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cryonics, Smallpox, and Pope Pius VII

I remember when heart transplants were front-page international news, not local human interest stories: and when oral polio vaccine replaced injections. I really do not miss the 'good old days.' I remember them, and they weren't.

I also remember when cryonics was 'science fiction stuff,' not a highly-experimental and controversial medical procedure. I probably won't live long enough to see whether it works. But if you're young enough: you might.
  1. Heart Transplant: "a Rebirth of Sorts"
  2. Cryonics: Life, Health, and Decisions
Since I'll be talking about life, death, and medical practices, I'd better start by saying that I'm a Christian: a Catholic.

Like it says in the Apostles Creed, "I believe in ... the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." I'll be explaining why I don't see a conflict between that belief and trying to save lives.

I had more to say after discussing the 'cryonics' news item, so this post runs a bit long:

Multiple Surgeries

By the time I started kindergarten, one operation had given me a mildly-functional left hip joint — and another had fixed a complication that may or may not have resulted from the first procedure.

Decades later, I had both hip joints replaced; carpal tunnel surgery done on both wrists: and was in the operating room again when part of my lower digestive tract went bad.

I'd probably have died if the latter had happened in the 'good old days.'

Needing hip joint replacements wasn't a surprise.

Getting a diagnosis of depression and something that's currently pegged as being an autism spectrum disorder — not so much, either, in retrospect.

I'd gradually learned that many folks transition into adolescence without having the light and color drained from their world: metaphorically speaking.

There wasn't much wrong with my vision, apart from extreme nearsightedness. I could still notice that beauty existed, and analyze the phenomenon: but the emotional responses were largely missing.

An array of powerful antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals have been changing that in recent years: which is a very nice change of pace.1

That brings up an interesting question: am I facing the wrath of God because I defied the Almighty by letting doctors keep me alive and somewhat healthy?

I don't think so.

Being Healthy

Let's back up a little, and ask another question — "is being healthy okay?"

Maybe that sounds like a daft question, or maybe not. I've run into a few excessively-sentimental 'lives of Saints' tales that focus on Saints who were very ill.

Saints are noteworthy for their heroic virtue and living in fidelity with God, not for being horribly sick, and that's another topic. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828)

Life and health are good things, "precious gifts entrusted to us by God:"
"Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good...."
(Catechism, 2288)
Maintaining health and fitness is important: but it shouldn't be the most important thing in my life. Being healthy is okay, but it's wrong " sacrifice everything for it's sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports....." (Catechism, 2289)

That seems clear enough. Being healthy is okay. Staying healthy is okay: within reason.

It's okay to help sick people get better, too, and find new ways to cure disease. It's even okay to transplant organs, providing we don't kill or maim one person to help another. (Catechism, 2292-2296)

Even if a disease or injury would eventually kill me, medical treatments — including painkillers — are okay: within reason. (Catechism, 2276-2279)

Using our Brains

(From Correogsk, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

I occasionally run into news about someone who decides that getting medical treatment is immoral. If the person is Christian, the idea often seems to be that we can either use our brains or trust God: not both. Or maybe it's that being sick is divinely ordained punishment.

I trust God and use my brain, or try to; and don't think God gave me bad hips and glitchy neurochemistry as a punishment.

I'd better explain that, or try to.

After the Eden incident, our mental picture of God has been distorted.2 (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 396-401)

Maybe life would be easier if God treated us like Pavlov's dogs, promptly smiting 'sinners' and rewarding good behavior with yummies. But that's not how it works:
"But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,

"that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust."
(Matthew 5:44-45)
Then there was the way Israel treated his youngest son, Joseph, and Joseph's behavior, that got him sold as a slave and shipped to Egypt. A few years later, he was running the place: and a good thing, too, as it turned out. (Genesis 37:2-28; 45:5-8)

I accept the idea that my continuing existence depends on God. (Catechism, 301)

But I also must accept the idea that God made a world where the creatures in it — including me — play a role in making things happen. (Catechism, 306-308)

Thinking, making decisions based on reason, is part of being human. I can decide to let whim and emotion guide me, or use my brain. Thinking is an option, not a requirement. (Catechism, 154-159, 311, 1730, 1778, 1804, 2339)

My experience has been that thinking before acting is a good idea. (December 6, 2015; March 1, 2015)

Basically, I'm expected to keep myself healthy: within reason. (Catechism, 2288-2289)

Beware Tiny Cows!

(From James Gillray, H. Humphrey, Anti-Vaccine Society; via Wikimedia Commons; used w/o permission.)
"The Cow-Pock—or—the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!"
(James Gillray's warning against the perils of preventing smallpox. (1802))

Concern, reasonable and otherwise, over new medical technology is nothing new.

For example, in 1802 James Gillray warned the British public against a controversial medical technology: inoculation. Meanwhile, the London Fever Hospital opened, "to the great horror of the neighbours." It was the first voluntary fever hospital, and that's yet another topic.

James Gillray probably realized that using cowpox inoculations to prevent smallpox wouldn't really make little tiny cows burst from the nose, face, and assorted other embarrassing spots. He was a cartoonist, satirist, caricaturist, and arguably invented the political/editorial cartoon.

That may explain what looks like a copy of Nicolas Poussin's "Adoration of the Golden Calf" on the back wall of that inoculation party.

The golden calf incident, described in Exodus 32, happened while Moses was on Mount Sinai. It was a major violation of the Decalogue, and they really should have known better. (Exodus 20:4-6)

Idolatry, putting anything ahead of God in my priorities, divinizing what is not God, is still a very bad idea.3 (Catechism, 2112-2114)

Where was I? Smallpox, inoculations, tiny cows, idolatry. Right.

Vaccination against disease has a long history — I'm putting a resource link list near the end of this post4 — but in the 1700s it was still experimental medicine, and very dangerous.

Science and Silliness

We've lived with, and died from, smallpox for a long time: upwards of three millennia, most likely.

Egypt's Ramses V, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and millions whose names are not remembered, suffered from the disease. (February 12, 2014)

Smallpox wasn't always fatal. About two of every three who caught the worst sort didn't die: but were scarred for life.

One of the few advantages to surviving smallpox was that it didn't strike the same person twice. Somewhere along the line, folks also noticed that the disease wasn't as severe for those who caught it from a contaminated break in the skin.

That practical observation led to variolation, deliberately infecting someone so that their bout with smallpox was more survivable, which reduced the smallpox death toll. It was an early step on the road to contemporary medicine.

I don't recall anyone objecting when the United Nations declared that smallpox was extinct on May 8, 1980.

But in the "good old days" when folks like Edward Jenner were developing inoculations against smallpox, it was a different story. Vaccination experiments triggered strong reactions, sensible and otherwise:
"for a man to infect a family in the morning with smallpox and to pray to God in the evening against the disease is blasphemy; that the smallpox is a judgment of God on the sins of people, and that to avert it is but to provoke him more; that inoculation is an encroachment on the prerogatives of Jehovah, whose right it is to wound and smite."
(Contemporary reaction to inoculation experiments by American physician Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, circa 1720)

"Smallpox is a visitation from God; but the cowpox is produced by presumptuous man; the former was what Heaven ordained, the latter is, perhaps, a daring violation our of holy religion."
(A physician's reaction to Dr. Edward Jenner's experiments in developing a vaccine for smallpox, (1796) via Psychological Sciences, Vanderbilt University)
Let's see what other folks said about the newfangled sort of medicine:
"...In contrast, many village priests in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and England not only urged parishioners to seek the preventative treatment, they became wholesale vaccinators themselves. Pastors in Bohemia charged parents with responsibility 'before God for neglecting the vaccination of their children.' In 1814, the Pope himself endorsed vaccination as 'a precious discovery which ought to be a new motive for human gratitude to Omnipotence.'..."
("Deliberate extinction: Whether to Destroy the Last Smallpox Virus," pp. 19-20, David A. Koplow, Georgetown University Law Center (2004))
That would have been Pius VII who said vaccination was "a precious discovery which ought to be a new motive for human gratitude to Omnipotence."

I'm inclined to think he was right.

1. Heart Transplant: "a Rebirth of Sorts"

(From Lutheran Health Network, via WANE News, used w/o permission.)
(Heart transplant recipient Michael Steadman)
"Heart transplant is a rebirth of sorts for Fort Wayne man"
WANE Staff Reports (April 25, 2016)

"Whether it’s taking a walk in the park, spending time with his grandson, and even performing household chores, Michael Steadman is cherishing every experience.

"Steadman’s heart began to fail three years ago. He got weak, could barely climb the stairs, and was exhausted all the time. Things gradually got worse, and last year doctors told him he’d need a transplant. He expected to be on the waiting list for months – maybe even years – but within 5 days he got the call.

"That was in July of 2015. He’s still on the road to recovery and doing everything he can to stay active and healthy...."
Open heart surgery was newsworthy when I was in high school: and Christiaan Barnard's successful human-to-human heart transplant in 1967 was a major international story. I trust that the donor really was "essentially brain dead" when the doctor cut her heart out.

Louis Washkansky survived the operation and lived for another 18 days: before dying of pneumonia.

I could claim that a wrathful God smote Mr. Washkansky something fearful for being a terrible sinner and mocking God by surviving the operation: but I won't.

I think he caught pneumonia and died because immumosuppresive drugs had shut down his immune system.

Transplant rejection4 is one reason I think learning to grow our own replacement organs is a good idea, and that's almost another topic. (August 29, 2014)

I could also denounce WANE, the transplant team at Lutheran Hospital, and Mr Steadman, for their "encroachment on the prerogatives of Jehovah," as Dr. Zabdiel Boylston put it in the 1700s. But I won't.

I see the WANE headline,"Heart transplant is a rebirth of sorts for Fort Wayne man," as a mildly-poetic way of expressing the idea that getting a new heart restored at least a porton of Mr. Steadman's health.

As I said earlier, organ transplants are okay: providing we don't kill or maim one person to help another. (Catechism, 2296)

Revenge of Frankenstein's Son's Sister's Cousin

That 'rebirth' headline is mild, compared to its 'dead patient returns to life' counterparts I remember from the late 1960s.

They were almost accurate, since a common way to tell if someone was still alive was to check for a pulse.

Surgeons couldn't operate on a beating heart, so the organ had to be stopped — and the patient was "dead." At least in the pulse = life sense.

I'll get back to that.

Oddly enough, I don't remember a rash of horror-heart-transplant movies in the wake of Dr. Barnard's accomplishment.

"Parts: The Clonus Horror," 1979, was close; and considerably more plausible than the 1991 "Body Parts."

Maybe studios figured folks had had their fill of Frankenstein spinoffs5 by then, or maybe I didn't notice 'I Have an Ax-Killer's Heart' titles.

Anyway, that's movies; and heart transplants are now so routine that they're generally human-interest local stories.

My guess is that someone, somewhere, is preaching that the road to Hell is paved with transplanted hearts. That's a disturbing image, now that I think about it. Never mind.

2. Cryonics: Life, Health, and Decisions

(From iStock, via BBC, used w/o permission.)
("What would it be like to know that everyone you had ever met was long gone?"
"If cryonics suddenly worked, we'd need to face the fallout"
Rachel Nuwer, BBC Future (April 25, 2016)

"Right now, in three facilities in the US and Russia, there are around 300 people teetering on the cusp of oblivion. They exist in a state of deep cooling called cryopreservation, and entered their chilly slumber after their hearts had stopped beating. Before undergoing true cell death, the tissues of their brains were suspended using an ice-free process called vitrification. All are legally deceased, but if they could they speak, they would likely argue that their remains do not constitute dead bodies at all. Instead, in a sense, they are just unconscious.

"No-one knows if it's possible to revive these people, but more and more of the living seem to believe that uncertainty is better than the alternative. Around 1,250 people who are still legally alive are on cryonics waiting lists, and new facilities are opening in Oregon, Australia and Europe soon.

" 'We have a saying in cryonics: being frozen is the second worst thing that can happen to you,' says Dennis Kowalski, president of the Cryonics Institute in Michigan, the largest cryonics organization in the world. 'There's no guarantee you'll be able to be brought back, but there is a guarantee that if you get buried or cremated, you'll never find out.'..."
Rachel Nuwer's article mercifully avoids the "I freeze people to cheat death" and "Bringing the dead back to life" exuberance of some 'science news' coverage.

I'd have a problem with cryonics, heart surgery, and emergency rooms, if I thought being very sick or seriously injured was the same as being dead — or that folks who aren't healthy are better off dead. I don't.

Recapping what I said earlier, I see life and health as gifts from God. Taking reasonable care of them is a responsibility. (Catechism, 2288)

That's reasonable care. "Over-zealous" treatment isn't required. Common sense is:
"Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of 'over-zealous' treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected. "
(Catechism, 2278)

Legally Dead: For Now

(From iStock, via BBC, used w/o permission.)
("The bodies preserved today are considered legally dead, but our descendants might not see it that way"
"...To the uninitiated, cryonics might seem the stuff of 'Vanilla Sky,' 'Demolition Man,' and other purely science fiction works. But many researchers believe that it is a credible field of inquiry, and cryobiologists are slowly chipping away at the possibility of revival. Most recently, a team succeeded at thawing a previously vitrified rabbit brain. Even after several weeks of storage, the synapses that are thought to be crucial for brain function were intact. The rabbit was still dead, though – the researchers did not attempt to resuscitate the animal afterwards.

"While a thawed out rabbit brain does not a fully revitalised person make, some believe that cryogenic revival might someday be as commonplace as treating a case of the flu or mending a broken arm. 'This is really not so earth-shattering or philosophically weird as you might think,' says Aubrey de Grey, co-founder and chief science officer at the Sens Research Foundation in California, a non-profit organisation dedicated to changing the way we research and treat age-related ill health. 'It's just medicine – another form of healthcare that helps people who are seriously sick. Once you get your head around that, it's much less scary.'..."
(Rachel NuwerRachel Nuwer, BBC)
Cryonics "is not part of normal medical practice," as a Wikipedia page put it.

Quite a few scientists are skeptical about whether or not 'reviving' someone who has been frozen is possible. They've got a point.

We don't know for sure whether the human brain has to be continually active to preserve memory. If it does: getting stored at around -196°C would pretty well erase the person's memories. I wouldn't like that.

The last I heard, someone must be legally dead to be frozen. That makes sense from a criminal-liability viewpoint: but means that if and when folks get taken out of cold storage, medicos will have a really sick patient on their hands.

I'm not convinced that cryonics works, or that it doesn't. I'll get back to why I don't see an ethical problem if it does. Practical issues, yes: ethical, not so much. I'll get back to that, too, in this post's Afterword.

Death, Saving Lives, and Safety Coffins

We've been learning a great deal recently, which has helped save lives: and made defining "death" trickier.

I am convinced that "legally dead" or "medically dead" and "dead" are not the same thing.

If having a pulse meant being alive, and not having a pulse meant being dead, all recovering heart transplant patients are walking corpses that had no heart at all, let alone a pulse, for several minutes.

I think Mr. Steadman would not agree, and I think he's right.

I'll admit to having a personal bias about hasty assessments of death.

My father's father was on a construction site when a crane collapsed, killing many of the workers: including, apparently, my grandfather. An alert medic noticed that one of the mangled "corpses" was bleeding, which saved my grandfather's life.

His days as a construction worker were over, but he developed other skills, and that's yet again another topic.

I'd like to think that most folks buried these days were dead before getting embalmed/cremated and interred.

Which reminds me: I've heard that cremation was on the 'don't do this' list for Catholics. The rule wasn't as random as in might seem, and reasons for the prohibition are implicit in the Catechism's discussion of options:
"Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious.

"The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.93"
(Catechism, 2301)
I've talked about autopsies and cremation before. (August 28, 2015; September 25, 2009)

I'm forgetting something. Safety coffins: that's it.

I'd like to think that what's euphemistically called "unintentional live burial doesn't happen: but in 2005 Funeral director John Matarese noticed that the "corpse" in a body bag wasn't quite dead yet, and called paramedics. Dashed thoughtful of him, I think.

Quite a few patents for safety coffins date from the 18th and 19th century.

Cholera epidemics — I've mentioned how much I don't miss the 'good old days' — and a natural skittishness about examining possibly-contagious corpses encouraged not-unreasonable fears of waking up in a cozy little coffin.

"Dead," But He's Better Now

A recovery team pulled a limp, obviously-lifeless body was pulled out of the Red River in Fargo, North Dakota, back in 1987. Young Alvaro Garza Jr. was limp as a noodle when a recovery team fished him out from a hole in the ice.

He had no pulse, and was quite obviously "dead." That's what happens when you spend 45 minutes under the river's surface.


His core body temperature went down to 77 degrees Fahrenheit — which probably saved his life. That, the mammalian diving reflex, having a hospital with a heart-lung machine nearby, and a family who wanted him to be alive. My opinion.

Folks at St. Luke's hooked Alvaro Garza Jr. into the machine, which let them "take his blood and warm it up and put it right back in his body," as St. Luke's/MeritCare's Roberta Young, RN, put it. 20 years later, Mr. Garza had four kids of his own: and a healthy respect for water.


As I said last month, I follow the Man who is God: who died in my place; descended to the abode of the dead; rose from the tomb; and lives today and forever. (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-11; 1 Peter 4:6; Catechism, 631-635, 638-655)

Jesus died. Our Lord had been killed by an execution squad which included Roman soldiers. They surely knew the difference between a dead body and someone who had fainted, or was pretending to be dead.

About three decades back, JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association, a peer-reviewed medical journal covering all aspects of the biomedical sciences) published an analysis of what our Lord went through.

It isn't an easy read, but worth the effort. My opinion:
I've been over that before. (April 5, 2015)

Health and Faith

When my lower digestive tract went into failure mode, my wife, a devout life-long Catholic, poured me into the family van and drove me to an emergency room.

I am quite sure she did not do that because she denied the Resurrection, or wanted to encroach "on the prerogatives of Jehovah, whose right it is to wound and smite," as Dr. Zabdiel Boylston put it.

I am reasonably confident that her goal was what it appeared to be: restoring my health.

Restoring and maintaining health is a good idea, within reason. (Catechism, 2278, 2288)

Getting back to the cryonics, ethics, assumptions, and all that — I very strongly suspect that whether or not getting put in cold storage is right depends at least in part on a person's motive.

If the individual thinks surviving until a cure for some disease is developed will prove that God doesn't exist — don't laugh, I've heard goofier arguments on several issues. I also don't see that as a good reason.

Someone wanting to survive until a cure for some disease is developed: that, to me, seems reasonable. I suppose someone out there thinks we're supposed to sit on our hands and let God smite us something fierce, but I'm not of that opinion.

Basically, I don't see cryonics as wrong, ethically.

If it works, it's simply another method for stabilizing a patient until adequate medical care is available. If I'm going to denounce cryonics on ethical grounds, I might as well denounce ambulances: because they defy God by getting folks to a hospital while they're still alive.

We may learn that cryonics doesn't work, and that folks who signed up to be frozen are really dead: as well as legally deceased. But right now, we do not know. I'm inclined to see it as a highly experimental medical procedure: dangerous, but potentially life-saving.

I think what Dr. Barnard wrote about Mr. Washkansky, the first heart transplant patient to survive more than two weeks after the operation, is relevant to questions about cryonics:
"...Washkansky could either wait for certain death or risk transplant surgery with an 80 percent chance of surviving. He chose the surgery. As Barnard later wrote, 'For a dying man it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end. If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water convinced you have a chance to swim to the other side. But you would never accept such odds if there were no lion.'..."
(Christiaan Barnard, People and Discoveries, A Science Odyssey; NPR)

The Disturbing Case of Lal Bihari

Lal Bihari was dead, officially, from 1975 to 1994. His uncle had bribed an official to register Bihari's death: putting the uncle in line to inherit some land.

Bihari eventually sorted the legal mess out, learned that at least a hundred other "dead" folks were in his position, and formed the Uttar Pradesh Association of Dead People.

Lal Biharie and his fellow-dead-people were victims of fraud: and in danger of being really, as well as legally, dead if they made too much of a fuss. I hope folks in that part of the world sort the mess out, but I won't claim that 'it can't happen here.'

Over the half-century or so that I've been paying attention, quite few definitions of brain death, clinical death, and legal death have been popping up.

"Brain death," the complete cessation of brain activity, might be a useful definition of death: if it was consistently applied.

It's not, so "brain death" in one place can mean that the whole brain, right down to the brainstem, has shut down.

Somewhere else, a patient with an active brainstem can be breathing on his or her own — and be "brain dead" because at least part of the higher brain functions are offline at the moment.

I don't think it helps that in my country organ harvesting can't start, legally, until a doctor signs off on "brain death." Cheerful thought.

Waking Up in the Future: Practical Considerations

I grew up when quite a few folks still thought human ingenuity would solve all our problems: or at least make "the future" a magical place to live.

I've seen that silly optimism change to what I think is an equally-silly fear that the future will be just simply awful: and then we'll all die.

As it is, I like living in "the future" — when polio is no longer a health threat in my part of the world, and smallpox is an extinct disease.

The World Health Organization released a Global Polio Eradication Initiative Strategic Plan progress report in 2012. This will take time, but I think we can end polio, too.

About adjusting to 'the future,' it helps that I didn't expect the world I am growing old in to be exactly like the world my grandfather lived in. I lived through the intervening years, learning new skills as needed: and enjoy learning about new technology.

If I'd — this couldn't have happened, we didn't have the technology, and still don't — been frozen in my mid-20s, and taken out of storage this year: that would be a different experience. I wouldn't mind learning that the Cold War was over: and wouldn't miss disco.

My guess is that I'd learn how to use today's information technology differently: most likely skipping right past learning how to use BASIC, QBasic, and DOS. Also, I wouldn't have gotten practice being patient while a dial-up modem made connections.

What sort of job I'd be qualified for: that, I'm not at all sure about.

The biggest adjustment, I think, would be getting used to a world without my parents. I would have missed the last few decades of their lives. On the whole, I'm glad to have experienced that.

Something that I'd wonder about, if I signed up for being frozen, is who would pay the bill if I survived the process. Cryonics organizations charge for their services up front, including storage and maintenance costs: so that's not an issue. Not in the short run, at least.

But let's assume that I was dying of something, arranged to be frozen, and woke up in the 31st century. Any financial arrangements I'd made could easily have failed in the millennium that passed.

One of my top concerns would be learning how I'd be expected to compensate folks for keeping me alive.

In a way, I'd probably rather wake up after several thousand years. That way my memories and experiences might be a mildly-valuable resource for antiquarian scholars.

And now for something completely different.

"Reanimated Abomination of Science?"

That's Rudolf Selnikov in the jar: what's left of him, that is. He was "in need of medical attention" — it's quite complicated, actually, like most of the Girl Genius comic series, and mostly irrelevant to this post.6

Selnikov looks happy in that panel because he's realized that being (officially) "dead" frees him from political infighting; and, as he put it, "...twisted and ruthless as you people are, throwing in with you is a step up."

Several panels back, Selnikov asked why he was "still alive." Given the willing suspension of disbelief required for the story — that question makes sense.

He'd been seriously injured, but "dead" only in a legal sense. His head was essentially intact, so his medical status in the story was a bit like an accident victim who was unconscious when taken to the emergency room.

We can't grow a new body for someone. Today, that sort of medical technology does not exist: although scientists have successfully grown a mouse thymus, and a few other non-human spare parts. (August 29, 2014)

Interestingly, I don't remember folks going ballistic over the first heart transplants. Maybe that's because I'd stopped listening to radio preachers by then, or maybe they were too busy having conniptions over just about everything else going on during the '60s.

By now, swapping out someone's heart is still a major medical procedure: but I think most folks have gotten used to the idea that not having a pulse does not necessarily mean being dead.

I also think the Sens Research Foundation's Aubrey de Grey, quoted in that BBC Future article, made sense, talking about cryonics:
"...'It's just medicine – another form of healthcare that helps people who are seriously sick. Once you get your head around that, it's much less scary.'..."
(Rachel NuwerRachel Nuwer, BBC)
More, mostly about faith and reason, science and religion:

1 I've been over this before:
2 I've talked about God, love, anger, and getting a grip, before:
3 I don't hope to convince zealots — but owning pictures and carvings isn't "idolatry," and the Catholic Church says to worship only God:
4 Life, death, and medicine; background:
5 Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the movies:
  • Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein
  • Bride of Frankenstein
  • Son of Frankenstein
  • The Ghost of Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
  • I Was a Teenage Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
  • Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein
  • More Frankenstein films
  • Still more Frankenstein films
6 Selnikov is a minor character in the Girl Genius comic series.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.