Early in the spring of last year Craig Lewis, a 55-year-old Texas native, found himself confronted with a life-or-death situation. After battling with a complicated heart condition leading to the build up of abnormal proteins in his heart, Lewis was told by doctors that he had just 12 to 24 hours to live before his heart would give way entirely. Where all other heart-supporting technologies proved to be insufficient, Lewis’ only chance of survival lied in removing the heart completely—and putting machinery in its place.
The device, called a “continuous flow” pump, works by using blades to supply a continuous flow of blood to the entire body. As a result, the patient has no heartbeat, and as Lewis’ doctors state, “by all criteria that we conventionally use to analyze patients,” he would be considered dead. Although able to walk, read, and otherwise completely functional, Lewis’ EKG is flat-line, and a stethoscope would reveal no heartbeat. Although tested extensively in cows, Lewis was the first human subject. While the device worked flawlessly, Lewis ultimately died 5 weeks after it was installed as his condition led to the corrosion of his kidneys and liver. A short video highlighting Lewis’ experience can be found below:
While Lewis’ doctors claim the device is the “waive of the future” his story left me with more concern than excitement. Lewis’ story represents the natural degradation of the body that occurs with aging, and science’s extreme intrusion into that process. While Lewis’ body was ready to give up, Lewis was ready to fight back, and with technology on his side, he won the battle. With the invention of this new device will individuals always have the option of “choosing” to live? When our organs, one by one start to erode, will technology advance to the point to which we can just replace them with shiny metal versions? It’s already been proven that modern advances in technology have significantly improved human life spans. It seems as though heart-replacement technology seeks to made life endless.
Craig Lewis’ story can furthermore be seen as indicative of America’s overall view of death as not a natural and inescapable ending, but a fearsome process that must be stopped at all costs. Americans seems to think that death is an injustice, a force to battle against. While it’s true that the death of an infant or child seems premature, at what point must we admit that individuals are ready to die? Millions of our ancestors have come and gone. The idea that future generations can control their life spans, and enhance them to an unnatural extent, seems not only frightening, but quite frankly a little absurd. Death is inevitable, and I believe it is the time to embrace it—not run from it though technological advances.