Kim Suozzi died in January of 2013, but she may have a second chance at life—in 100 years or so. According to a recent New York Times article, Suozzi, who died at age 23 of an aggressive form of cancer, chose to have her brain cryogenically frozen in the hopes of one day being revived (possibly with her memories and personality still intact).
Suozzi and long-term boyfriend Josh Schisler were about as realistic as possible regarding the idea of cryogenics: they hoped that Kim would eventually be able to come back to life in an artificial body, using a computer to feel and sense things. Despite the decidedly unappealing prospect of living without a body (immediately after her death, Kim’s head was detached from her body in order to expedite the freezing process), Suozzi and Schisler were enthusiastic and hopeful. Said Schisler, “I just think it’s worth trying to preserve Kim.”
As is the case in many situations involving death, Kim’s loved ones were at odds with each other. Her father, who ultimately was not given power of attorney, reportedly told Kim, “Dying is a part of life…we don’t life forever.” But Kim and Josh persevered, eventually securing the money for the procedure, mostly through anonymous donations.
Currently, Kim’s brain remains frozen
at a private facility in Arizona.
Aside from the science fiction-y overtones in the article, I think the story raises some very real questions about the role of medical technology in overcoming death. Is freezing the human brain really a triumph over death? By all accounts, Kim Suozzi most definitely died on that January day. But if the possibility of coming back to life—in whatever form that may be—is real, then can we really write her off as dead? And how close is science actually to being able to achieve what Kim and Josh had hoped? I was simultaneously disturbed and intrigued by this article; I found myself wondering if in the future death will even exist at all.
On November 20, 2012 in Puerto Rico, famed boxer Hector Camacho was shot in the head in a drive by shooting while traveling with a friend. The bullet penetrated his jaw, fractured two vertebrae and severed his carotid artery restricting blood flow to his brain; he also suffered a cardiac arrest during the first few hours of his hospitalization. The next day he was declared brain dead by the physicians present effectively ending all hope that he could make a full recovery. The doctors then recommended that he be taken off of life support, a recommendation that his mother endorsed. Camacho died on November 24, 2012 and was laid to rest in New York City on December 1.
However, not everyone in Hector’s family was supportive of the decision to remove him from life support. Hector’s eldest son, Hector Jr., opposed his grandmother’s decision to remove his father from life support stating that “He is going to fight until the end. My father is a boxer.” Other relatives as well as friends of Camacho were also unsure of whether or not to remove Camacho from life support. One friend and fellow professional boxer Victor Callejas remarked that “If there is still hope and faith, why not wait a little more?”
The death of Camacho and the dispute over whether or not to end life support for him shows that despite what scientific evidence tell us, despite what professional doctors know and despite what we have learned throughout the semester in this Death and Burial Class, there is always going to be a debate over life support and whether or not brain death is truly the end. Even though we know about brain death and the fact that a person cannot recover if the brain is dead, we should not be so quick to look down on people who doubt the evidence of brain death with contempt. It is understandable why these people might be hesitant to pull the plug on a loved one. For almost everyone, losing a loved one is one of the most traumatizing experiences they can go through; furthermore, losing a loved one who still looks able to potentially function and recover is even more traumatizing. Even though we should raise awareness of brain death, due to the fact that people are reacting normally to the state of their loved ones, we shouldn’t blame people for being hesitant to pull the plug on a brain dead relative.
Because of this, every person in this class should make it their goal to help raise awareness of brain death is some way shape of form. By doing this, we can at least help make sure that people are more understanding of brain death and what it means for their loved ones
The cartoon television show Family Guy is known for its dry, offensive, and often over-the-top humor. No subject is off limits for the show’s creator, Seth MacFarlane, not even the case of Terri Schiavo. Around the time of the five-year anniversary of Schiavo’s death, Family Guy aired an episode in which a kindergarten class was exhibiting its annual production of “Terri Schiavo: The Musical.” Before the performance, one of the main characters in the audience makes a comment asking if it is still too soon to have a musical about the controversial case. The show starts with just the noise of all the machinery maintaining Schiavo’s body, which eventually becomes the music for the song. In the scene Schiavo is often called a vegetable, with jokes being made about a machine “dispensing gravy for her mashed potato brains” and stating that she’s “the most expensive plant you’ll ever see.” The children playing pro-life supporters sing the chorus “Terri Schiavo is kind-of alive-o.”
Understandably, the Schindlers, Schiavo’s family, were very upset by the episode. “I wish the producers could have seen (my mother’s) reaction,” said Bobby Schindler, Schiavo’s brother. “It rips your heart out. It really shouldn’t matter what side you’re on regarding my sister. Something like this should offend anyone.”
While there is no denying that this episode is extremely offensive, it is also making a political statement. By exaggerating the amount of medical technology required to maintain Schiavo’s body, MacFarlane shows how low he feels the quality of life is for someone in a persistent vegetative state and how vital the brain’s role is in determining life. MacFarlane takes a very serious and highly contested situation and uses humor in an attempt to show how ridiculous he thinks it is to keep someone on life support when they have been diagnosed as brain dead. His use of humor also seems to eliminate the gray areas in this debate and leaves us with a black and white picture of what he thinks is right: brain death is ultimate death and it is not only constitutional but also ethically responsible to remove life support. The ridiculous notion of a musical about the Terri Schiavo case shows how ridiculous MacFarlane believed the situation to be in the first place.
It was not simply the episode that was offensive, but also the timing. By airing the show so close to the fifth anniversary of Schiavo’s death, the episode was addressing a very sensitive subject at its most sensitive time. In posing the question at the beginning of the scene as to whether or not it was too soon to produce this musical, another question is raised: when is it appropriate to joke about upsetting, controversial topics?
To see the video go to http://www.mrctv.org/videos/family-guy-stages-terri-schiavo-musical
To read an article on the Schindler’s reaction go to http://www.tampabay.com/features/media/terri-schiavos-family-is-upset-over-family-guy-parody/1082648