The last thing I read before falling asleep last night was this New York Times piece about Kim Suozzi, a young woman with an incurable brain tumor who opted to have her head cryogenically frozen.
I love this piece. It’s a romantic story with many layers: heart-tugging details about the woman’s relationship with her boyfriend; fascinating information about the brain; a deep dive into a developing technology that stirs hope in a certain subset of dreamers. Given The New York Times’ prevailing obsession with death — and pronounced bias against the prolongation of life — I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised to see that the paper presented this story without a sneering undertone.
I woke up still thinking about it, and I was curious to see what commenters had to say. Curious and anxious. The Times’ readers — or at least those who comment — are not the most sympathetic or imaginative lot. I braced for nastiness and negativity …
… and I found it.
“We know so little about the brain that we don’t understand, cannot cure, and can scarcely improve anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and a host of other illnesses of the brain. Yet we think we can disembody a head, recreate a brain, freeze it, then years later recreate it with precision? This is absurd and a sad waste of money.”
“This is quite a tragic fear of death that drives someone to something as pointless as this. To use all this money and effort to one day, maybe, simulate your consciousness? Simulated consciousness is just that: a simulation. She is dead, she is not coming back.”
“And the stupidity continues in America about life, death, technology, and the meaning of it all, infecting even the younger generations with high-tech balderdash. Is Walt Disney’s body still frozen somewhere? I believe it is.”
“While I wish Kim a good journey into the future, I can’t help but thinking what an incredibly selfish person she must be/have been. Her opinion of her own worth sounds Trumpian. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on her ridiculous quest, yet that money could have saved tens of thousands of kids in Africa suffering from simple lack of clean water, mosquito nets, or vaccines. I truly wonder how anybody could think that their own brain is so special that it is worth more than the lives of tens of thousands of children.”
“I knew these two would be libertarians.”
And so on.
The majority of the comments I read were negative. Fortunately, not everyone found this woman’s personal choices so deeply offensive.
“Whatever readers think about this, it gave this young woman something to believe in and to focus on while facing a nightmare reality. For me, that alone was worth it. Seems hard to understand why anyone would criticize this effort to hold on to life.”
“There is a lot of unwarranted animosity here. Now a 23 year old medical student, I myself bought a life insurance policy to cover whole body cryopreservation several years ago. I’m young, healthy, and don’t intend on dying anytime soon, yet the thought of the remotest possibility of life after death comforts me. Why does this differ from any other person’s belief? I don’t think I “deserve” to live longer than anyone else, but the option for admittedly long-odds life extension is there so why shouldn’t I take it if that’s what I choose to do? Maybe I’m just too young to understand the wisdom of living and dying as all others have done since humans have existed, but should the day come that I no longer wish to be preserved then I have a nice $180k life insurance policy, of which my family would be left a sizeable portion, that I paid only $45 a month for. Her situation was slightly different, but the animosity towards her fundraising is no more warranted than toward her ideology. If people were willing to give her money towards preservation, what’s the harm? You act as if someone stole the money from your own pocket. They helped a young woman die in peace and knowing she had done everything she could for herself. They were obviously fine with the notion of cryopreservation. If there is ever a way to regenerate the brain and restore life, I’d rather have bought the lottery ticket than not.”
“I admire her for trying this. I know the technology isn’t there yet, but it has to start somewhere. It’s hard to imagine being 23, facing this illness, and taking up the cause of preserving the brain. It seems like she was an amazingly intelligent and beautiful person.”
But this reader in New York says it best (emphasis mine):
“Often when I read the NY Times comment section, I think, maybe I should finally stop reading this section for good because of the preponderance of stupid, arrogant, upsetting, ignorant comments therein. To read so many people calling a 23 year old with terminal cancer a narcissist is deeply upsetting. To read the insipid suggestions that she get pregnant instead. To read the lack of imagination of those who can’t conceive that one day technology could be good enough for this to work, or that one day society could be a better place. It’s infuriating. Kim herself says the chances of this working are small, so to those of you berating her about her intelligence and ego I say for shame. The fact that NYT picked a comment by a psychic medium makes me truly question their motives- are they simply trying to be provocative and unpredictable highlighting some charlatan’s bafflingly smug criticism of Kim? I think Kim seems like an amazing person. I wish you had lived Kim. I hope your plan works out. You and Josh are great people and seem much more intelligent than any naysayer in this comment section.”
Is Kim Suozzi a gutsy broad? Some might argue that the braver course would have been to accept her death and slip away. I do think it takes courage to confront mortality — absolutely no question there. My dad is a retired neurosurgeon. He knows the severity of glioblastoma. He has delivered the bad news. He has watched patients die and seen their families grieve. Maybe it’s easy for Suozzi’s detractors to sit in judgement, but I wonder how bravely they’ll face death when their time — or that of their parents, children, spouses and siblings — comes. Suozzi had fight in her to the end. She could not live according to her own script, but by God she died that way.