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Intervention
Daniel Hero   Mar 9, 2012   Ethical Technology  

Global fertility is declining so fast that, at current linear trends, global population would stabilize in this century at 9 or 10 billion. Progress in agriculture, energy and manufacturing technologies will hopefully make it possible to support these numbers in an increasingly ecologically sustainable way. But accelerating progress in the treatment of disease and slowing of aging will also be pressing down mortality rates, keeping unsustainable population growth a threat. Some have suggested that draconian controls on fertility would be an acceptable trade-off for the benefits of longer lives. This short story by Daniel Hero suggests another possible adaptation to the longevity-population dilemma. - J.




The bus glided to a noiseless stop and crouched down to the curb before disgorging Sylvia and her wheelchair onto the sidewalk. The chair was an older model, so not equipped to read her intent like a husband of 40 years. In fact, it actually had a joystick, which she now used to toggle the wheelchair forward, giving a little wave goodbye to Chet, the bus driver. He waved back and flashed her a quick smile before the closing doors could eat it up. She recalled a time when buses were smoke belching monstrosities that hissed and roared like a conservative on tax day. It had been a long time since she’d heard a good old fashioned combustion engine.

Sylvia wanted to think that she didn’t really need a wheelchair, but in truth she was glad the clinic had insisted she take one since she’d made the trip without a family member. When she got home, it would either drive itself to whoever needed it that was closest, and given where she lived, that was the most likely, or back to the clinic.

Today had been her third and final visit to the Rogue Valley Medical Clinic in as many weeks. Sylvia didn’t mind going in person, it let her meet nice people like Chet, even though for this last trip she didn’t have the normal option of a virtual visit given what she was considering. Considering. Let’s be honest and say decided, Sylvia thought. After all, she had accepted the shiny plain white envelope with her name and patient I.D. number laser printed on the outside and its single self adhesive patch inside. There were other options of course, but she’d preferred the patch, smiling a little to herself as she recalled the last big thing she’d quit decades ago. 

A petite woman, she wisely started taking real care of her health after quitting smoking in her mid-thirties, just after Rob was born. Yoga, meditation, and an almost religious attention to cardio had paid huge dividends all through her sixties; a dividend with increasingly diminishing returns another twenty years later. She was in remarkably good health for her age. Everything still worked; it just took a lot longer and lately hurt a lot more.

Nearing her assisted living bungalow, she saw Stan making a beeline for her, his shock of ridiculously black hair bobbing up and down like a wounded crow. She briefly assessed whether the chair could get her to the doorstep before Stan could intercept. Sighing, she decided to let him try one more time, for old time’s sake.

“Your boy’s in there,” he wheezed at her, nodding towards her place.

“Really? How did he get in?,” Sylvia asked.

“Dunno, you tell me. He stood at your door, suitcase in hand, knocked, and when you didn’t answer he made a call. Two minutes later, your door pops open. Something you want to share Sylvia?”

“Not really, no.”

Stan gave her a hard stare for five full seconds, then shrugged. “Suit yourself then.”

She softened and showed him the white envelope. Stan nodded slowly. “You’re sure?” He asked.

She hadn’t expected to have to choose something so dramatic, or this immediate, but if Rob got a Medford judge to pop her lock, which was his right as soon as she’d started the paperwork, she was out of time. Even though this was a famously liberal state, so liberal in fact, it was the first to adopt the right to die, there were judges who wouldn’t hesitate to enforce a legal intervention; although it didn’t happen often. Besides, if you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly, she thought. Never mind that there were no more wild bears left in the world, grizzly or otherwise.

So she pulled the tab on the tiny white envelope and spilled the patch into her hand. Removing the slick adhesive cover, she snaked her hand under her blouse and bra and allowed it to bite, directly over her heart.

“I’d call that a yes.” Stan said. “I’m really going to miss you Sylvia.”

“Thanks. It’s time though. Long past really.”

“How long do you figure?,” he asked.

She reached down and idly rubbed the patch. It itched a little but didn’t hurt at all. “The doctor said opening the package activates it. After application, a doohickey inside the fabric links to the web, notifying the proper authorities. So, I’d say, ten minutes? Fifteen?”

He waggled his equally ridiculous black eyebrows at her. “Want to spend your last fifteen the best way possible?” She laughed in spite of herself and for the briefest of moments considered it.  She’d wanted to end things quietly, listening to                  
some Brazilian trip hop, with a cup of her favorite tea at hand; not having to choose between fifteen minutes with this raisin and Rob’s intervention.

“I’m flattered by your persistence Stan, but I owe my boy the courtesy of a goodbye,” she said. “Not to mention that I’m 80 years old you filthy old man.”

“You don’t owe him anything, not if he’s here to try and talk you out of this,” Stan said. “And you may be 80 but you look 65.”

“He’s my son,” Sylvia replied. “G’bye Stan.”

He cocked his head at her, shot her a wink and a grin, turned and walked away. She found it so disarming she almost called him back. Instead, she released the chair at her doorstep, wincing at stiff knees, palmed the door open and walked in.

Rob rose smoothly out of his chair as she entered her living room, crossed the four intervening paces and kissed her on the cheek. His lips were dry and very tight. “Hello mother. Pursuant to section three paragraph five of the A.R.E. Act, commonly known as the ‘Hamlet’ act, I am here on a sanctioned intervention and you are required…”

“To listen to this bullshit, yes, I know,” Sylvia interrupted. “I should say, I’m required to let you say what you must but I’m not required to listen. So I tell you what. I stipulate and understand all the boilerplate. Go ahead and have your say. I’ll even listen. Not that it will do you any good. Are you sure I can’t convince you to just have a nice cup of oolong? We can listen to some music and I’ve still got a bit of some very fine sativa lying around here somewhere.”

He folded himself back into his chair and carefully rubbed a crease out of his pants leg. “The church says that there is always hope. If you’ll truly listen then maybe I didn’t catch the last maglev out of Boise for nothing. Really mother, what you are considering is an abomination.”

“So no tea then? Well, I’m going to have some. By all means, continue. Except for the preaching. You know how I feel about that.”

“But it lies at the heart of the matter mother. God didn’t intend for man to intervene with the….”

“Stop it Robert. You no more know what God does or doesn’t intend then the next man. Or woman for that matter.” She shook her head and sighed. “I never thought you’d…. Look, I’m serious, if you want to spend your allotted time talking about God, I certainly can’t stop you, but you know me well enough to know you’ll just end up pissing me off.” Was it her imagination, or was she starting to feel all tingly? It’d be ironic if her son ended up killing her via an annoyance induced heart attack before the patch could do its work.

“Alright, alright,” he said, putting his hands in the ‘stick ‘em up’ position.

“You know I love you right?,” she asked. The question was wildly out of character for her and it took Rob completely by surprise. His mouth worked noiselessly, as it called up things to say and just as quickly dismissed them. He wasn’t a stupid boy though and he stopped, narrowing his eyes at her.

“You’ve already taken it,” he said flatly.

“Yep,” she said. And then grinned at him. His hands made little fists on his knees and she could almost hear his teeth grinding. Oh yes, she could definitely feel something now. Two slow serene waves started to creep, one up from the tips of her toes and the other down from the crown of her head. She figured they’d crest and meet somewhere around her navel; the symbolism of it almost making her giggle. She wobbled slightly before she made it to the gray couch opposite where Rob was sitting. Looks like I won’t be getting that tea after all, she thought.

“You waited too long Robby. Once taken, there isn’t anything you can do about it. Too late for an injunction based on incompetency, which is what you were hoping to try, right?” She took his silence for confirmation and continued. “I meant what I said though. I wish things between us had been better. If only you’d have respected my choices as I’ve tried to respect yours,then it wouldn’t have to end this way.”

Rob smiled tightly back at her. “You’re wrong mother. I have connections.” He stood up, his arms very straight, fists clenched at his sides. Sylvia realized he looked very much like the seven year old version of himself, tossing a tantrum. “We’re going to the hospital. One of our hospitals. They can reverse whatever unholy concoction is coursing through your veins. I’ll get that injunction. And we’ll have this discussion again. Again and again, if necessary.”

It was then that the door toned. She wondered idly if he had jumped the gun and sent for a private ambulance the moment she stepped through the door.  She bet not.  There was little chance he knew that Stan had tipped her off.  If she was wrong, Rob might actually be able to make the pain last for a very long time indeed. She was feeling far too good by this time to care.

“Enter,” she said.

Two very young men—at least cosmetically, almost everyone nowadays under 50 looked like they were somewhere in their twenties or thirties, even if they weren’t on the inside—stepped into her bungalow. They wore the light blue of the coroner’s office and Sylvia knew everything was going to be alright.

They took in the situation at a glance and one placed himself between Sylvia and Rob as the other turned to her and said, “Ms. Vega? I’m assistant coroner Enlevera.  We’re from the Oregon coroner’s office and this visit is being recorded.” A small red light appeared on his collar. “We recently received an automated message from a personal prescription registered to you signaling your intent to invoke your right according to the American Rejuvenation and Expatriation act. Is that correct?”

She nodded. He continued.

“We are thereby here to convey you to the nearest health and out-processing center where the rejuvenation process you’ve begun will run until completion. At the end of which you will relinquish your American citizenship and all the rights and privileges attached, up to and including your Social Security benefit and all federal and state pensions, if any.” He relaxed and kindly said, “As the saying goes, ‘You can stay on the planet, but you can’t stay here.’ This is your last chance to back out ma’am. Do you so wish?”

“I do not. In fact, I’m ready to go as soon as you boys can help me off this couch. That is, unless my son here has anything to add. Robert? Anything? I didn’t think so.” The handsome young man gently helped her stand. “I hear they’re looking for ‘juvies in Luna City,” Sylvia said. “Look me up if you decide to make the trip.” Robert glared at her over the shoulder of the second man, who glared right back at Robert as she exited with Enlevera.

As they walked out her front door to the official ceremonial hearse, Sylvia laid a hand on the seemingly young man’s arm and smiled warmly at him. “Thank you,” she said.

He smiled just as warmly back. “For what ma’am? You’re the one who decided to be or not to be. We’re just doing our job.”

“Why, the intervention of course. Things were starting to get ugly and painful.”




COMMENTS

Interesting concept. I like the idea of spreading out to at least the moon and possibly other planets.

I hope there’ll be a sequel. I would want it to answer the following questions. Where in the world does she go? How does this rejuvenation process work?

And also a prequel. The thesis seems to be that religious conservatism in the US has prevented (non-cosmetic) rejuvenation technology from being legal there except on condition of expatriation. How was this compromise arrived at? There must be some good stories about that.

The sequel could describe what life is like in this brave new world to which she migrates. Are there children there? What kind of social or environmental pressures has rejuvenation created? Any horror stories to report about the early use of this technology, e.g. along the lines of the recent silicone scandal? How was the technology developed? Was Aubrey de Grey involved? Is he still alive? How far in the future is this?

In other words: keep up the good work, Daniel!

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