Call me crazy but I have just signed up to to do the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, taking place at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August this year http://codi.beltanenetwork.org/about/. Here is my pitch and I think I might dress up as a mechanic or shop assistant:
The Garage of Animal, Mechanical and Human Spare Parts.
“Why thank you for popping by my ‘One-stop-body-shop. It is very forward thinking of you to choose what type and kind of material you would prefer for the repair and replacement of your organs. Currently, I have several options for you to consider; deceased or living human organs from others are all the rage but supplies are limited. We can also think about the more expensive option and advantages of ‘grow-your-own’ organs? A bit pricey? Organs from non-human animals (genetically modified pigs) can come in a little cheaper. No we don’t do the organic option. You’re vegetarian? However we can do so much with technology nowadays you might want to think about the cybernetic options (we are expecting a delivery next week).”
I have just been for the interview for a Beltane Public Engagement Fellowship – in order to get them involved to help evaluate the project I also need to get some significant training in public engagement. I was asked to prepare a 5 minute spiel on what I would say to the young people of Muirhouse about the project so here’s what I presented:
I am going to tell you a story. Parts of it are true, parts of it are partly true and other stuff might be true.
My name is Dr Gill Haddow. I trained as a medical sociologist. I study society. My speciality is in human identity, human bodies, and human parts. Here’s the story.
We are in the present day. Someone who is about your age and who lives around here has a disease. Lets’ say it’s a really rare genetic disease. They are being destroyed inside and out by this genetic disease that has no cure. The only way they can live is if the organs and limbs that have the disease are cut off or taken out. Actually here’s another example, someone else around here maybe about your age was born with really important parts of their body – both inside and out – missing.
Here comes the good news. It’s the future – not so distant future. So picture this – the ‘missing parts kids’ have the choice now to replace or repair parts of their body that they never had or that got cut off. There is a small detail however, a small catch there are only two sources of where they get the replaceable parts and they are not human:
1) Animals; in the not-so-distant future animals can be used to repair or replace human bodies. Scientists can grow human organs inside pigs; or they can make the whole pig more human. It has to be pigs because there are lots of them, they are not special like monkeys, and they are roughly the same size as an average human. Doctors can change the pigs or their parts to be more human and then kill the pigs to use the parts that are needed to repair. IT sounds cruel but we eat bacon so no real difference right? There are problems. First of all – human bodies don’t like any other animal or human parts being put inside them. The immune system that protects the body from viruses say, attacks anything that it senses is not self. If you have a pig organ or hand or trotter then you are going to have to take a huge amount of drugs to stop the body attacking the new pig organs. If you don’t take or get the drugs the part is going to slowly rot. Like a bowl of mince well past the sellby date. Here’s another problem. What if you start to act like a pig? Having a pig organ is different from eating a ham sandwich. The pig organ stays in the body – the ham sandwich doesn’t. Heres what you get – you get to live but you have to take a huge amount of drugs that your life depends on, you are not sure whether you are still human AND to make it worse, everyone knows this. You have no friends, people cross the road because they are worried they might get some pig disease (like bird flu) and you are never allowed to have a family.
2) Machines: in the not-so-different future we can use machines to replace or repair organs or limbs. These are not just putting in an artificial hip or knee joint. These are smart machines that can work by themselves or can be controlled by thought. Smart technologies such as these can be used to replace your hand or your heart. But not your brain. The problem is that maybe the machine can have too much control over you – how do you get something out of you that you can’t remove? Also all machines at some point break. How would it feel to have a machine going crazy inside or on you? Plus most human-machines are like robots – the Cybermen in Doctor Who or Robocops tend to be less human; so you might not be a pig but you might be a bit robotic. In fact, it might an implantable smart technology might change you because you are constantly worried about how and whether it might change you. It’s the end of my story. But this is not just a story. Currently, scientists are experimenting with the way that non-human animals can be humanised by genetically editing them. This is because there are not enough human organs for transplantation and the probabilities are there will never be enough. Today we do actually use bioprosethetics – small parts of animal from pigs or cows to replace human heart valves but they have to be replaced after 15 years – or not as long as mechanical ones. And they are specially treated to remove any possible viruses. The mechanical heart valves often tick – like a clock. And can be very annoying. Smarter machines such as implantable cardiac defibrillators that deliver actual shocks to stop person’s heart going into a fatal rhythm can also cause some individuals to feel differently – to feel more anxious but also isolated. They become more human not less.
So if these are real life stories where could you go if you were asked to make a film about using animals and machines to replace and repair the body? Who would receive such biotechnologies? What would it feel like? Would your main character get both animal and mechanical parts inside and out? Would they still be the same person or not? Would other people still speak to them or avoid them? Would they be bullied or would they be the bully? Would they have octopus tentacles coming out of their head, a bionic third eye and partly automated, partly real eagle wings? Only you all can make this film. And its only limited by your vision.