Mark Roth never expected his research to have military applications. He was a biochemist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, studying how chromosomes move during cell replication. Then, about a decade ago, his second daughter, Hannah Grace, died of heart failure at the age of 1. Her death sent him down a much stranger path. “I became interested in immortality,” he says.
Isn't that how Frankenstein got started? I can't help but picture secret labs (probably underground), scientists in white lab coats peering intently at unconscious, oxygen-deprived mice and shouting, “It's (still) alive!”
It isn't just scientists who find this sort of thing interesting. Every culture has its myths and stories about heroes or villains who somehow obtained immortality, only to do something stupid and get tossed back down to earth or turned into an animal or a tree. Or, sometimes they became constellations. Whatever, the point is that I can not even count the number of books and stories I've read or heard about where the lead villain (or sometimes the protagonist) is seeking some holy artifact or ritual that he believes will make him immortal or bring someone he loves back to life.
But, what would happen if we could become immortal? What if the seriously wounded could be kept alive, in stasis, long enough for their wounds to be sewn up, their injured parts replaced (we'll soon be able to grow most important parts in a petri dish somewhere, no doubt), and their fluid levels balanced out (we already have synthetic blood)? What if trauma (aside from a certain kind that I prefer not to discuss or imagine at the moment) was no longer a major cause of death, and even the most fragmented Humpty Dumpty could be kept alive long enough for all the kings' men to put him back together again? What kind of person would be left then, after such a trauma? Physically healthy we assume, but what about mentally and emotionally?
Since this is mostly military research, its first applications would likely be in a military context. What if soldiers blown up on the battlefield could be kept alive long enough for their physical bodies to be restored to usefulness? What about their minds, their souls? What can cure a human mind of the experience of trauma, of watching it happen, of feeling the pain and fear and helplessness, of reliving it over and over again? Is there some way to defend against the emotional trauma, to become immune to it? Would we want to be?
Even when a person can be saved by conventional means, it often leaves a life-shattering scar. Sometimes, even being an observer to horrible trauma can leave emotional wounds that will not heal. In those cases, it is sometimes the human mind that panics and decides to shut itself off. So, what if we could manage to bring back the horribly wounded, to keep soldiers alive on the battlefield long enough to get them patched up? What then? What will we do for them then?