Scientists Want to Bring the Dead Back to Life
A few days ago, I came across one of the most shocking headlines I’ve ever read:
“Scientists Get the Green Light to Resurrect the Dead with Stem Cells”
As the father of 20- and 30-something age kids, the first thing that flashed through my mind was “zombie apocalypse!” Of course, that’s just silly. On the other hand, I’ve been hearing rumors about rabies virus being developed as a biological weapon, and science recently discovered that your genes don’t actually shut down till several days after you die.
In light of those two things, plus all the other dark and crazy things to come out of the scientific world in the past year—creating the DNA blueprint for a completely new lifeform and the push to create an artificial human genome, just to name a couple—there’s not a lot that would surprise me right now. And as I’ll talk about in an upcoming issue of our paid newsletter (just click the “sign up” button at the top of this page to get access), I’m convinced that we’re in the middle of not just a political or moral battle for control of our health, but a spiritual one too. And trying to bring the dead back to life would be right in line with the agenda that one side of this war seems to be following.
As it turns out, that’s not what the article was about at all. It had nothing to do with what we typically think of as “dead.” Instead, it was about growing new, functional neurons in people who’ve been pronounced “brain-dead.”
Brain death and coma are not the same thing
Not so long ago, the idea of “brain-dead” people would have been ludicrous. Once your brain stopped functioning, you were dead. Period. It didn’t even have to stop functioning completely, it just had to lose the ability to keep your lungs and/or your heart working.
But as medical life-support systems became more advanced, the line between “dead” and “alive” became blurrier. People who once would have been dead could now be kept “alive” artificially, even though vital processes like breathing might have shut down. And some of them, in spite of all the odds, eventually woke up and went back to their former lives. So we had to find a way to decide, in the face of technological advances that could keep people alive indefinitely, what really constitutes “dead.”
Now the general public may be mildly confused. We hear a lot of terms thrown around when it comes to the brain and brain injuries. We hear not just “brain-dead” but “coma”, “vegetative state,” “minimally-conscious state,” and “persistent vegetative state.”
These latter terms are not the same thing as brain-dead. Brain death means that there is no electrical activity in the brain, including the brain stem, which controls the most basic functions like breathing. With the other terms, there’s still some electrical activity going on somewhere even if the person is never going to wake up again or breathe on their own. In brain death, the brain is…dead. It doesn’t work at all. The body may be kept in working order for a time—days, weeks, possibly even months—but the brain itself is totally non-functional.
And that is what these scientists want to reverse.
Miracle or mad science?
The researchers are calling this the ReAnima Project. They plan to experiment on 20 brain-dead people (with the families’ consent, of course), and their goal is to grow new neurons in these dead brains by using a combination of stem cells, amino acids, and electricity. The subjects will be infused with stem cells every two weeks for six weeks, and be monitored for signs of nerve cell regeneration over several months.
Their hope is that eventually, they will be able to bring the brain-dead—who are technically and legally dead, even though their bodies may be maintained on life support until organs can be “harvested” for transplantation into living people—back to life. They claim they have tried the process on two subjects in the Persian Gulf and Europe (though they haven’t given specifics) and that these patients are now in a “minimally-conscious” state. The project has been given the go-ahead in India, and is set to start “recruiting” subjects immediately.
I find myself very torn on this topic. On the one hand, if it works to any degree it could be a godsend for a whole variety of neurological problems from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s disease. It could be the key to healing spinal injuries and restoring function for those who have been paralyzed by spinal cord trauma. It could be the answer to healing stroke damage and alleviating untold suffering.
But on the other hand…is this not the epitome of playing God? Are we really meant to raise the dead?
Because make no mistake—brain-dead is dead. Without modern technology and drugs, after brain death bodily death would also be immediate and irreversible. And even with these modern wonders, the body of a brain-dead person can’t be maintained indefinitely. Without the brain, the dozens of hormones needed to keep the body running aren’t made. Proteins aren’t made. Body temperature has to be maintained with external heat or warm IV fluids…without the brain, things just don’t work.
And what happens if we do “reanimate” a brain-dead person? Will they be the same person? Will they have the same personality? Will they even have a personality, or will they be a blank slate waiting to be written on? Will they begin their “new” life with the memories and intellect of an infant? Will they have to begin their lives all over again? Or might we be bringing them back merely to exist in a “minimally conscious state” or “persistent vegetative state” forever?
In my opinion, this is as much a moral dilemma as the idea of creating the human genome from scratch. Maybe more so. Because this experiment—let’s call it what it is—for all its promise, also has a chilling side. As Christians, we believe that when we die, our souls ascend. Just where we go while we wait for judgement day depends on who you ask, but that belief is something we all share. So if science takes on the power of God and succeeds in calling us back from the dead—what exactly is it that returns?
I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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