Friday, 29 October 2010

Whose Body Is It, Anyway?

This is not a review of the Stiff. Apart from a hearty recommendation, that is. Do read it. It is very good indeed. In fact it was such a good read that it set me thinking - which is an unmistakable sign of a good book, by the way. I also learned something. Well, actually, I learned a lot. I can't say I was too well versed into stuff that happens to people once they're already dead. Best of all, it made me change my mind (to an extent, at least). And if you know me, you must realise how difficult that is. Let me then tell you what's it all about...

First, have you ever thought about what would you like to happen to you once you're dead? In answering this question, did you spot the first fallacy? Did you ever give any thought to the fact that once you're dead, there is no more "you" to speak of. There is now just a body - a lump of meat and bone, really - and, if you're deluded religious, maybe a "soul" or whatever is headed for heaven, hell, or whatever fate your particular flavour of delusion religion "teaches" you. For my purposes, I will disregard the latter option, and that will lead me back to the title of this post. let me present it to you in it's expanded, full form:
There being no "you" any more, who does the body that is left behind belong to now?
I am not going to go into (or anywhere near) any legal implications of the above, but I will confidently state that it most certainly does not belong to you. There being no "you" any more, that should be perfectly clear and indisputable. And now we can go back to another question I already asked. I will again rephrase is slightly for your convenience:
Have you ever thought of mandating what happens to your body after you die?
Where I'm really aiming at with this is, if you have thought of dictating the fate of your dead body, maybe you should think again. One reason is that, as we've seen above, that body is not really - or rather not at all - yours any more. Not being yours, what right you have to make any demands on it? Remember, by the time the question of what happens to the body comes up there is no "you" to have any stake in it.

This is where I have come to agree with Mary Roach: in all reality, your dead body belongs to your surviving nearest and dearest. It is they who have to continue living with both your death, and memories of your life. It would only be sensible, not to mention sensitive to their needs, to let them deal with your death - and your dead body - in any way that will make their lives easier. It is, for all intents and purposes, their body - the one that you left behind.

Does this mean that you should not make any wishes be known for the fate of your remains? Not at all! Do let your nearest and dearest know of all your ideas and plans, but with one big caveat attached: make it clear that they need not follow your wishes if, when the time comes, they do not feel comfortable doing so. And you need to make that caveat amply clear, too, not just let it be assumed. Otherwise, especially if your nearest and dearest have religious delusions ideas of an afterlife, they may be bullied by your all-seeing "soul" into something they wouldn't otherwise do.

So, by all means become and organ donor, or bequeath your body to science, but let the living make the final call. Who knows, they may even love you (or rather the memory of you) so much that they will honour your wishes even if they themselves do not necessarily agree with them. It won't matter to you either way.

Oh! I guess you also wanted to know what my position on the matter was before reading Stiff. I've no problem telling you that I had ideas of detailing everything that should (and should not, for that matter) happen to "my" dead body, no ifs and no buts. I also have no problem telling you that I still plan to do it, but now with the added caveat I have just explained above.

But will I tell you what that plan may entail? Sorry, but no. Or maybe, yes, but not here.

I know it is well nigh impossible to imagine the not-being, but that is not the proof of there being an afterlife. It is probably more a proof of the efficiency of evolution: there is no evolutionary benefit in being able to think of oneself - or rather, non-existence of oneself - after one has died. Being able to do so will not enhance your chances of leaving viable offspring one iota. In fact, being a brainy nerd who can, and does, probably means you have much less chance of getting any sex at all, let alone the sort that has a chance to lead to offspring. If you don't believe me, just go to a singles' bar and try to strike a conversation along these lines...