In a weekly column, alternately written by Lucien Engelen, Mary Fiers, Maarten Steinbuch, Carlo van de Weijer, and Tessie Hartjes, E52 tries to find out what the future will look like. All five contributors – sometimes accompanied by guest bloggers – are working on solving the problems of our time. Everything to make Tomorrow Good. This Sunday, it‘s Tessie Hartjes’s turn. Here are all the previously published columns.
Recently I lost my father. At the end of the summer of 2009, he was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune kidney disease: fibrillicular glomerulonephritis. He has always been very strong in all those years, so it sometimes seemed easier than it was. Some successful but also some failed operations, 7.5 years of dialysis and a lot of secondary problems ultimately took their toll. Sometimes lucky but ultimately he also had a lot of bad luck.
Despite many setbacks, he has always remained optimistic, something I still have a great deal of respect for. When dad was treated at the First Aid last November, I was stupid enough to assume that this time too he would soon be okay again. After all, it was a well-known image: dad continued to make sharp and witty remarks while all sorts of small hoses connected him to wheezing devices.
After a successful transplant a year earlier, we simply hadn’t expected it anymore. The blow is enormous… I still cannot and will not believe that he will never be there again. After a conversation with him, it always felt like I was going home with a more filled in version of myself. I would like to have a happy chat with him again, as we often did. This desire has lately made me think a lot about developments that go towards eternal life, physically, or in the form of an AI.
There is a current that claims that “death is just a technical problem”. (In the book Homo Deus which Maarten Steinbuch recently wrote about). For example, a Dutchman recently found a protein that can counteract old age and in some respects even reverse. With gene therapy, more and more people are looking to cure old age. If you also have a failing organ, a replacement may just roll out the 3D printer in the future. But besides physical eternity, there are also developments that look at downloading knowledge from your brain. Would it be possible to receive a USB flash drive with an AI version of your nearest person instead of an urn with their ashes? And how much time would it take to get used to this and let it come across as real? At this moment, it sounds very attractive, if only to ask for advice once more, and tell him everything I wanted to say.
I am and remain fascinated by all the technical possibilities that we as people already have at our disposal. But when I look back on my father’s entire disease process, I am actually surprised how badly we are able to monitor what is happening inside our bodies. It will, therefore, be a long time before we can expect real miracles in the form of eternal life. Or rather better: staying healthy throughout life.
In the meantime, therefore, we need all organ donors very much and I, therefore, think it is fantastic that the new donor law was adopted last week. It personally feels a bit double but it offers hope for the many others who are waiting for a donor. Pia, on behalf of me and many others, thank you very much!