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Millennium Post

If you could, would you live forever?

My brother-in-law and friend, Prashanto’s mother (74) couldn’t survive, after she suffered burn injuries during Diwali. After fighting for life for more than 50 days, her body gave up. It was a life well lived.

And in the course of things, I thought of three things that I would want to share.

The first being the goodness of doctors. Yes, I still believe that doctors in general have fallen to almost being merchants of death. And yet, at the same time, the fact is that for all such doctors, we also have a set of amazing human beings who choose this profession selflessly to make a difference to people’s lives. It was amazing to meet such doctors during Prashantos’ mother’s hospitalisation, who kept our faith in the profession alive.

The second thing that I realised was about the greatness of medical science. Yes, I did argue about the excesses of patents (in one of my editorial columns) but thanks to their research and development, we live in a better world where hope never dies. Till the last moment during the hospitalisation of Prashanto’s mother, thanks to medical science and its progress, there was logical hope that remained in our hearts. And linked to all this, is the desire of living forever and how that is the ultimate goal of medical science. That’s the third issue I want to leave my readers with today!

Those of us who live for another 20 odd years might actually go on to live forever. And it’s not me telling this but Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil has been dubbed by none other than Bill Gates as the smartest futurist on earth. According to Kurzweil, in another 20 years science will probably invent ways to re-programme our bodies and thereby reverse the ageing process; and then, nanotechnology will let us live forever! Blood cell sized submarines called nanobots are already being tested on animals.

And soon, they will be tested on human beings. These nanobots can be used to destroy tumors, unblock clots and perform operations without scars and will ultimately replace blood cells in human bodies and help the body work thousands of times more efficiently. In effect, humans could expect to possibly go on living forever.

My initial reaction was of course not as futuristic as the prediction. I don’t want to live forever, is what I thought. Why should I? Today, I get up in the morning and run behind my work, give extra love to people close to me, come back home early and sit for dinner with my parents because they are old, all because of that fear of time running out. Will I behave the same when that  fear doesn’t exist anymore? And then, there is the fear of utter boredom. What do you do in life if you were to live forever? And of course, if human beings are being run through nanobots, then what’s the difference between us and robots?

And would you really wish to stay with the same spouse for those many years, or love your great grandson as much?

While Prashanto has always been vehemently for the idea of living forever - he believes we have so much to see-  I have always thought that life’s happiness was about spending more meaningful time with people you love. However, one such day, while this was being hotly debated at my home, my son, who was nine years old then and listening all along, almost broke down. He said, ‘Papa why won’t you take the medicine that could help you live forever? What makes you think that we shall become inhuman robots? We shall be different. We shall remain as loving and caring...’ I remember that for many days after that day’s debate, the only thing that bothered my son was the fear that I may not be willing to live forever; and the fear that his grandparents, whom he passionately loves, may not live for another 20 years to take advantage of the monumental upcoming scientific advancement. Thus, at this point of time, seeing in my son’s eyes the love for all of us everyday, seeing in Prashanto’s eyes the love for his mother, I am forced to think that the idea of living forever may not be that bad after all... If that’s how we are to evolve, then so be it! After all, what is science and medicine about? It’s about discovering ways to prolong life and destroy diseases.

So while we laud every medical advancement that helps us live a little longer, shouldn’t living forever be considered the ultimate scientific discovery? And most importantly, whom do we live for? We live for others. And if my son, who loves me the most, thinks I must live with him forever, then I will want to live with him forever. And wait for life to show how to live.

Arindam Chaudhuri is a management guru and director of IIPM Think tank
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