The news that General Bioethical Inspector GIBET4, Tom Strauss, was again under attack by the Seven Tower Government, as daily documented by the Seven Towers Post, was circulating among his closest friends, who were worried about so much pressure against him. It was not the first time. Now, it was because of the frontal opposition of Tom against the new frontiers of the Medicine Department within Tower4. The Medicine Department and the Bioengineering Loop had developed a strong collaboration, since a few years now, and this has given, as products, a few techniques which were now going to be experimented in patients and distributed in all the regions, starting with all the hospitals of the Seven Towers.
Thus, that afternoon, Joshy, Jeremy, and Cleo decided to pay a visit to Tom. Now they sat in the small living room, drinking tea. It was Cleo who started the conversation, saying why they were all there. Tom had understood that already.
-Thanks for your help, my friends. You see: I have taken this job many years ago and did my best to defend the bioethical principles in these difficult times, where most scientific inventions and advances go against human nature-or so I believe. Now we are facing something in a way new. You should see the overall situation, my friends - here the small roundish figure of Tom Strauss made a gesture with the arm, to indicate despair and resignation.
-Well, what is worrisome is the entire philosophy attending this phase of the medicine work. I believe that the very definition of human is put in danger by the view propagated now by the Medicine department. Nothing less. According to this pluri-annual contract/collaboration between the department of Medicine and the bioengineering labs, you see, the human body is seen and judged on the basis of the principles of engineering which should be optimized. They say, for example, that the heart is, in principle, just a pump to send around blood, using a lot of pressure- but it is just a poor device from the bio-engineering point of view, because it is so weak as a machine, and prone to so many failures and mistakes, and in fact is the main source of death for humanity. And they say: why, then, not substitute the heart with a really good mechanical pump, electronically regulated, that pushes the blood in the body with no effort and no risk whatsoever. And they have indeed constructed such a machine, a small computerized device not larger than a coin, and called it Micro-Tungsten-Pump. And once surgically inserted in the body, this little machine/computer will go ahead for years and years-not like the fleshy heart, which decays much before the rest of the body.
-I heard - intervened Jeremy - that the same can be said about our lungs: they are rather inefficient from the point of view of distributing oxygen. They can also be substituted by a small pump, they say, that will be functioning forever without all the fleshy lungs problems. And there is already in function an artificial pancreas, which can be put under the skin, and measure the value of sugar and releases insulin accordingly. Quite a good device, I thought.
-In this way, you can do without heart and without lungs! - interrupted Cleo. And without pancreas!
-Yes, yes, this is so, and this is the problem - said Tom nervously. Of course we can do much better than nature in terms of single instruments taken in isolation. But the main question remains: is this the way we want to proceed? Look: there is also the idea to do without the heart and without the lungs altogether, by having artificial nanoparticles circulating autonomously in the body.
-What? How is that last thing? - asked Joshy.
-When you enter the main door of the Bioengineering Department -said Tom sadly - there is a big poster which shows a picture of the red blood cells. With the information and demonstration that they are extremely inefficient to bring oxygen around the body. This is, actually, ...well… true. And then they have designed artificial red cells, much smaller and with an efficiency hundred times larger or more. And, mind you, the same is true for the platelets-you know, the particles that in our body are responsible for blood clotting-yes, they also are not very efficient. The bio-engineers have now designed and made synthetic platelets, much smaller than the biological ones, and thousand times more efficient. The general name nanobots has been adopted for all these artificial synthetic substitutes of small biological entities, and mind you, these things, as you call them, in addition to perform their function, are also computers-or are linked with computer outside the body, and can receive signal from outside, namely, to do such and such thing.
-And what do you do with them? - asked Joshy shaking his head.
-Well, the idea to inject in your body billions, or trillions, of nanobots, which only means, by the way, just one millilitre of solution, bringing around all what is needed, oxygen in particular-but they can eliminate pathogens which they encounter in their way.
And then Tom concluded with another theatrical gesture of the arms.
-The human intelligence wants to improve on nature, doing things which are much more perfect, from the engineering point of view, than the biological devices. And substituting all natural devices with the synthetic ones.
-There is no doubt - said Jeremy after a short pause - that human intelligence has reached a level to do single things better than nature, looking from a strict engineering point of view. Even before the artificial intelligence of today. Think to flying: we have learned from birds, but we do it with aeroplanes which do not flap their wings, and they are much more efficient than birds!
-Yes, I agree - said Tom and again repeated - but is this the way we want to go? Forgetting the designs of nature and substituting them with the products of our new acquired intelligence?
And he added after a short silence.
-All inventions in the past were to improve the functions of man- the telescope, the glasses, the wheel and the auto, the planes, the printing, the microphones, the radio and TV. Now, in the last two centuries, with genetic engineering, cloning, brain uploading, the search for super-intelligence, and the new medicine, the idea is to make a new man, one cyborg with a lot of mechanical, electronic, computing parts, a man who may live up to 150 or 200 years. The dream is living for ever or almost, is one of the main targets of the transhumanism philosophy which sits at the basis of the artificial intelligence.
-Is this new man the result of biological evolution? - asked Cleo.
Nobody has the wishes to reply to this question. In the silence that followed, all of them were looking at the floor holding their head in the hands.
-What do you plan to do, specifically? - asked then Cleo looking at Tom Strauss.
-I will present a motion to the Senate of Tower4, where I will ask for a suspension of the surgical experiments with the Micro-Tungsten-Pump. I know that in principle there are even a few good sides on that, for example, when a normal heart transplant cannot be done. But the real target of the Medicine Department of our tower, is to propose it as a mass panacea to eliminate-they say-all heart problems of mankind. Humans will live much longer in this way, and this is the advertising they will be used for it. The big Pharma companies are all behind this project-indeed a multibillion enterprise. I will fight against this, my friends.
There were days of frantic activity for Tom Strauss. He had to write a detailed report, to present to the Senate of Tower4, with the concluding request to suspend the surgical activity of the Medicine Department for replacing the biological heart with the Micro-Tungsten-Pump. Then, he spent hours calling his political friends in the Senate, to convince them to vote for his request. And he had a long series of discussion, conversation, interviews, including one with Cleo, who wrote a long article for the Seven Dwarfs Post. His face became even more popular in the television and journals, also common people were discussing this issue of the small artificial heart. Was the heat just a pump? What would be the consequences for the humans, once that the biological heart would be put in standby, left in peace, while all heavy action wold be taken in the body by a little metallic coin? Psychological consequences as well-or perhaps no, seen that we, under normal conditions, are not aware of the working of the heart, nor of the lungs, kidney, pancreas...
The established press responded heavily to him, with articles in the Seven Towers Post, television debates, medical conferences. People were recognizing him on the street and on the markets, stopping him and asking questions-not always friendly.
And now, the famous reporter Ricardo Varela was ready to interview him, in the real-time online social media distribution. A small table had been prepared for the interview in the main office of the Bioethical Department, and the thirty or so chairs were all taken and many people were standing at the wall. And millions of people would have seen the report of Ricardo.
Ricardo gave one of his famous smiles, then he asked Tom Strauss to resume the proposal he would present at the Senate, and the raisons for his opposition to the Micro-Tungsten Pump as surgical substitution for the biological heart.
Tom Strauss stood up, cleared his voice and began to talk. And it was at this point that something happened. A young lady, maybe only twenty of age, casually dressed and with long blond hair, run to the table and stopped him, yelling against him.
Ricardo intervened, trying to pull back the woman. Tom was flabbergasted, took refuge against the wall, could not speak. And the live recording was on, with the young lady crying:
Because of you, because of your Senate bill, my child will die, you know that? you will kill him! He was born with a miss-functioning heart, which cannot be operated by normal means, and the only solution for his life was the mechanical heart of the medicine department! Do you understand that, you killer?
And the woman threw against his face two or three pictures of the child, pictures which fell to the floor and were picked up by the people around. And among them Tom recognized Cleo, who then, with her small body, had taken the crying lady under her arms, pulling her away. The young lady was now crying in a desperate, piercing shrill, pulling her hair and stamping her feet to the floor. More people had come to the table, and all were looking at Tom, who, white in the face, breathing heavily, was still against the wall in an almost petrified position. Ricardo, pale in the face, was very disturbed, but was filming all details.
Then slowly people begun to go away, but Tom felt their disapproving look on his skin. He was now sweating copiously. He rose the head toward Cleo who was now leaving the room, hoping that she at least would have given him a sign of support or understanding. Nothing.
Tom went home, he didn't want to speak with his wife, locked himself in his study holding his head and trying to forget the picture of that child. His heart was beating heavily, he had difficulty in breathing. Millions of people would have seen Ricardo' report, seen the lady and her crying. Then, after an hour of agony in that way, he took a decision: to resign from his post.
This decision permitted him to calm down somehow. He sat at his desk and wrote the resignation letter, addressed to the Triumvir himself, as law prescribed. He knew that the Triumvir himself would summon him, he also knew that the Triumvir would have been happy about that, as in the last years they only had fights and bitterness the one with the other. Because of his bioethical commitment. Yes, it could not go ahead like that all his life. And that child...
It was the Triumvir1 in person. And he wearied for the occasion his black tunic and black hat-as for the big occasion. He looked even bigger than the images usually given by the press- with a pale face, and two bright, piercing eyes. Tom Strauss sat in front of his grand desk, with his heart beating.
-Welcome, GIBET4! - said Triumvir1 with an open smile.
-Good morning, Sir.
-Glad to meet you in person, GIBET4, what is your name, actually? I think dr. Tom Strauss, true? And a physician, a psychoanalyst, true? Doesn't matter. Let me say that you gave us, in the last years, a lot of troubles. We in the triumvirate have always, or let me say, almost always, seen as a pain in the neck your fights for the so-called bioethics. Yes, I know well about your campaigns, your ideals, your friends, and articles in that Seven Dwarf Post... A lot of nuisances... - added the Triumvir with another open smile.
A short silence.
-I read your resignation letter, GIBET4.
-Yes, Sir - Tom found the force of saying.
-A very good, short letter, very clear, to the point.
-Thank you, Sir.
-Well, let me tell you that your resignation is simply - the Triumvir looked at Tom with another open smile - simply rejected!
-What? - exclaimed Tom - and added.
-I am... quite surprised, Sir. You just said...
-That you give us a lot of troubles?
The laughter of the Triumvir was strong and sincere.
-Of course, of course. But you should understand that we need that, mister Strauss!
-What? No, Sir, I do not understand well... I wanted...
-You do not understand because you do not understand politics, being an idealist. You think, with all your friends, that the Triumvirate of the Seven Towers is an autocratic, you even call it dictatorial, power, isn't so? Whatever is the reality, dear dr. Strauss, we need an opposition, you see? How could you have a regime, without some people who give opposition? You, your idealism, your friends, your articles, your Senate... are part of the system, you understand? We are all in the same boat.
-We want you, we need you, we will keep fighting you and humiliating you as many times we need- but you have to be there.
Another sincere, open smile.
-Now, GIBET4, you should take a couple of days relax, then keep going on with your futile proposals. Thanks for that. You can go now, good bye.
-Good bye, Sir.