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My father (Gerald Frederick Rhoades) died on 13 May 2016 - he was 89 years, 5 months and two days old. My mother (Dorothy Rhoades) died 10 days later - she was 84 years and 7 days old. With my view of how the World should be, they were not good deaths - in fact they should have been unnecessary. If it weren't for the Dark Ages, humans could long ago have solved the mechanisms of ageing and abolished death (except for accidents and voluntary choices). We should also have been exploring and colonising the rest of the Solar System for hundreds of years now. But no, humans are still squabbling amongst themselves over their petty grievances and wasting trillions of dollars in resources every year on armaments.
In 2004 an article appeared in the Melboure Herald Sun after my parents agreed to let me Cryonically freeze them after they died. The article generated national and even international attention and I participated in many radio and television interviews that followed the newspaper article. More than 12 years later things have not gone to plan and I am bitter and distressed about how my parents died. I am devastated that I can't talk to my parents any more but I do take some solace in the fact that I have been able to preserve their brains in liquid nitrogen at least. The idea of a family Cryonics facility did not work out when I started to have my own serious health issues which substantially curtailed my personal ability to create the first Cryonics facility outside the USA. Fortunately the baton has been picked up by others (http://stasissystemsaustralia.com).
Dad had been suffering from increasing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) for a couple of decades and finally he had symptoms of full-blown dementia (his younger brother had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer's). I have seen people with early-onset dementia so it could be argued that Dad, in his 80s, had not done too badly. Of course being categorised as "lucky" in the dementia stakes does not make it any easier to deal with the terrible state of the person and the distress of the family and friends.
Both Mum and Dad had been in and out of hospital for years for various problems but we had finally decided that it would be better if they could both be moved from the Central Coast of NSW to be closer to my sister Jocelyn on the Northern Beaches in Sydney. For various reasons Jocelyn was shouldering most of the burden of keeping in contact with my parents and dealing with medical problems. I was now more than 7 hours away from them by public transport in the Central West of NSW but I did what I could by phone in terms of dealing with medical and other professionals and having the many long and sad discussions with siblings.
Only a couple of weeks after Dad had been moved to an aged care facility at Mona Vale, the Geriatric Rehab unit at Wyong Hospital told us that there was not much else they could do for our mother. We would move Mum to the same facility as Dad. We hoped that Mum and Dad being together again would improve their psychological outlook and help them both - to some extent at least. However this reunion only lasted a few days before Dad's physical condition worsened. I booked my trip from Cowra to Sydney fearing the worst was near. The train was stalled 100m from Central Station because of some signal problem when I received the phone call that I had better get to Mona Vale by taxi rather than by bus. By the time I got there, a heavier dose of morphine had already been administered to relieve Dad's physical pain and distress and I was not able to ever have another conversation with him - trivial because of his dementia - or otherwise.
The aged care facility kindly moved Mum's bed next to Dad's in the same room. Mum was by this stage pretty much completely incapacitated with very limited movement - including her arms. We position Dad so his arm reached over to Mum's bed so they could hold hands - they stayed that way for about 30 hours before Dad finally died. One of the many heartbreaking scenes over the couple of weeks I was with them was the look on Mum's face when I had to separate their hands so we could start the head-cooling procedure for Dad.
Mum went down hill rapidly after Dad died - at first I thought she had decided to die as well but we are fairly convinced now that she would have been happy to live longer if only her body would let her. It was a terrible situation - unlike Dad, Mum was fully functional cognitively but for some reason she could barely speak. The second last distressing conversation we had with her was when my brother Alan and I spent an hour on a ghastly game of "20 Questions" - trying to work out what it was that she was trying to tell us. There was yet another terrible moment when in distress and gasping from lack of oxygen she turned to Alan with a look on her face which said in disbelief: "Can't you understand what I am trying to say either?". I eventually worked out that she wanted to finish drinking the half-full glass of vegetable juice that was behind me.
We were able to help Mum calm down without the use of drugs and she was comfortable for another few hours but then she became distressed again - I think now she could feel that the end was near - to see the fear in her eyes was awful . .
Jocelyn and I were panicking not knowing what the best thing to do was. The senior nurse advised increasing the dose of morphine to ease the physical distress (Mum was not in any actual physical pain like Dad had been) and to help her get a little sleep. We told Mum we thought that was the best idea and that it would be OK and we could talk to her again when she woke up. Mum never woke up again. Jocelyn and I got a little more sleep than usual thinking Mum would feel a bit better in a few hours but Mum kept sleeping - at first we thought she was just catching up on the huge sleep debt she had - but it wasn't that - her systems were shutting down. We felt so guilty that we had "tricked" Mum into agreeing to take the higher dose of morphine - we might have had some more hours or days where there might have been some profound, final conversations. In hindsight it is easier to see that she was actively dying but when you love someone and you desperately don't want them to die - it is harder to see the reality of the situation at the time.
Mum stayed sleeping for a couple of more days while her breathing became more and more shallow. I still couldn't sleep - unlike for Dad, Mum's breathing was so shallow that my phone app for detecting no chest movement for 10 minutes would not work. I lay in the recliner chair opposite her bed where I could see her chin moving with each breath. I couldn't hear her breathing and when my eyes would close occasionally I would open them with a start fearing I had fallen asleep - I needed to start the head cooling process ASAP after she died. I think I was starting to hallucinate - mixing up reality with waking dreams - I thought I saw Mum open her eyes and got up to check. Her breath rate slowed as I watched - I texted Jocelyn - in the few minutes it took her to arrive, Mum took her last breath.
I know various species of humans have been dying for a million years. I know humans have been inventing superstitions to make the ordeal more bearable. However, in the technologically advanced 21st Century, death and dying are as primitive and grotesque as they ever were - there has to be better options.
A better way would be to make a permanent and irretrievable death a voluntary option. For many, many reasons, ageing and the increasing physical decrepitude and senility that goes with it should be cured.
For me, these most personal of deaths have added yet another perspective to my already strong convictions about death, dying, personal freedom and Life Extension. For a rational person who loves being alive and active in the world, it seems the preferred options (if an indefinitely long and healthy lifespan is not currently achievable) should be, in order:
1. Stay as healthy (mentally and physically) as long as possible, but when currently available technology can not keep you alive with a good quality of life, then, if you want to live again, have a pleasant transition to a Cryonic Vitrification and wait for technology to reach a level where you can be revived, cured of whatever killed you and rejuvenated.
2. Stay as healthy (mentally and physically) as long as possible, but when currently available technology can not keep you alive with a good quality of life, then, if you DON'T want to live again, have a pleasant transition to a Neural Archive so that at least your descendants and future generations in general can have the historical benefit of your recovered memories and experiences as a unique human being in time and place.
3. If you don't want to have a new life in the future or leave your memories for historical posterity then at least the development of new and better drugs and Brain Computer Interface (BCI) technology should allow you to have no pain or discomfort BUT ALSO allow you to be serene and to be able to communicate with loved ones right up until the end.
The critical point with all of these options is that it should up to the individual themselves AND NO ONE ELSE as to how they live their lives and schedule their transitions to another state or even to a permanent and irretrievable death. An individual having full control over their own "death" sounds a lot like Voluntary Euthanasia - but is it really if the person wants to be revived in the future and live again? Archaic laws passed by legislators with world views that have more to do with Bronze Age goat herder superstitions than modern science. These ideas need to be consigned to the dustbin of history along with the "Flat Earth Theory" and the miriad of other ideas that seemed sensible at the time they were dreamed up but that we now know to be nonsense.
If humans can survive the Sixth Mass Extinction on the planet that we ourselves are causing and if we can find a 21st Century way of turning "Swords into Ploughshares" (Isaiah 2:3-4) then maybe "Human Civilisation" can survive and start to really explore the universe rather than continuing to destroy our beautiful little blue planet. Humans can create such beautiful and wonderful things in The Arts and The Sciences - it would be a shame for such a promising species to not learn how to deal with its reptilian past, destroy itself and not fulfill a destiny of spreading Mind throughout the Cosmos.
I know I am heading down the same path as my father - the MCI is noticeable and my genetics suggests I am likely to get Alzheimer's as well. I am determined to not die like either of my parents - that is totally unacceptable. Unfortunately it is not likely that a "Pre-Mortem Cryonic Suspension" (PMCS) will be legal in Australia by 2020 - the "deadline" I have set myself for there to be effective treatments available for MCI and Alzheimer's. If there are no such treatents available then I need to find a way of having a PMCS in another country or in a completely automated way so that no-one else is potentially incriminated. In either case I will make sure that as much scientific information can be gathered during the whole process as possible - it will be valuable data for future PMCSs.
After reading Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" in the 1960s and observing what we had been doing to the planet, I guess I was an "Angry Young Man" political activist. Now, I guess I am an "Angry Old Man" political activist. Admittedly there were some bright spots on the journey eg President Kennedy initiating the process that allowed humans to land on the Moon and return to Earth; Prime Minister Whitlam abolishing Conscription and withdrawing troops from an illegal and stupid war in IndoChina. I set up the "Life Extension, Science and Technology Party" to contest the coming Federal Election but ran out of time to get it properly organised - maybe I will have more time to do it for the following election . . but in any case, while I prepare for my self-imposed "deadline" I will pursue the social objectives of my Life Extension Village in Cowra (http://lev.com.au).