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State of Mind: Parts is Parts

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One of the benefits of growing older is receiving the AARP magazine. If you are not familiar with this publication, it is aimed specifically at older folks. 

We know AARP magazine is for older folks because, first of all, it is a “magazine,” which draws upon an ancient concept that dates from 1663 (in Germany; 1741 in the U.S.) in which stories and images are printed on paper and mailed to you and end up waiting to be read in a basket in your bathroom. 

Young people do not read magazines. They read their cellphones. To be fair, there are now these things called E-zines, which are online magazines that can be read on your phone. They are replacing now-defunct printed magazines, such as Life and Playboy (not that I ever read Playboy, mind you). You’ve probably already heard about such popular E-zines as “K9YA Telegraph,” which is the rage among ham radio operators, and “The Inner Bonding Journal,” which, in its own words, is “filled with information and articles regarding the powerful Inner Bonding healing process.” 

So obviously the AARP magazine, which features inspirational stories about aging celebrities (who knew that “Halloween” actress Jamie Lee Curtis is 62 and can still get around without a walker?) along with ads for long-term care insurance; “easy to use” cellphones and computers; medic alert systems; walk-in bathtubs; and a lot of over-the-counter supplements to help your aging body keep running smoothly, is intended for older Americans.

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Interestingly, what you don’t see in AARP is ads for replacement body parts. I guess they don’t want you tearing a page out of their magazine and running off to your orthopedic surgeon, waving it and saying “Hey doc! Have you seen this new T-1000 artificial hip? It looks pretty racy! What kind of deal can I get on one of those?” 

Judging from the experience of a bunch of my friends, this trend toward humans morphing into cybernetic organisms, or “cyborgs,” is picking up speed. I know people with mechanical hips, knees, and shoulders, and with each new part they receive they are that much closer to becoming the Six Million Dollar Man or maybe even The Terminator himself. Reported side effects have been minor, mostly consisting of recipients having the urge to leap over tall objects, feeling aggressive in the presence of anyone named Sarah Connor, and occasionally blurting out, “Hasta la vista, Baby!” Ha ha! Just kidding. They mostly just whisper “I’ll be back.”

And now comes news of an even more important and possibly ominous advancement. In case you missed this, according to Associated Press medical writer Carla K. Jonson (Oct. 20, 2021), researchers announced they had successfully transplanted the kidney of a pig into a dead person. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “But Lare, why would they want to put a pig’s kidney into a dead person?” 

Let me explain. The woman was deceased. It had been her wish to be an organ donor, so her body was kept alive on a ventilator. Her organs, however, were deemed unsuitable for transplant. So her family agreed to the kidney experiment in the hope that some good could come of her gift to science. 

And the pig was no ordinary, run-of-the-mill porker. It was a pig that was genetically modified to not produce a sugar in its cells called alpha-gal, which is the substance the human immune system reacts to when it rejects a pig’s tissue.

The result was the pig kidney was not rejected by the woman’s body and began filtering the woman’s blood and producing urine.

Reaction was swift. According to one commenter in the AP article, “This is an important step forward in realizing the promise of xenotransplantation, which will save thousands of [human] lives each year in the not-too-distant future.” 

But if people who receive mechanical or electromechanical replacement parts can be referred to as cyborgs, how will we refer to people who have undergone xenotransplantation of pig parts? More importantly, if they undergo numerous xenotransplantations, at what point do they stop being considered human? What happens if they eventually become 51 percent pig parts?

And so far no one seems to have asked the pigs about this. Imagine if reporters could question them. The reporters would, as they always seem to do with humans, turn to Hollywood celebrities for comments. I can see the headlines: “Entire Membership of SAG [the Swine Actors Guild] Squealing Over Kidney Experiment” and “Muppet Miss Condemns Research.” 

This would be followed by the inevitable quotes from said porcine celebrities: “’Non, merci! Keep those surgeons away from me! Nobody touches my bacon except my Kermie!’ said Muppet star Miss Piggy, referring to her on-again, off-again relationship with Kermit the Frog.” And “‘Th-th-th-th-this is totally unacceptable,’ said Porky Pig, ‘They have no right to be messing with our ge-ge-ge-ge-genes!’” “Arnold Ziffel, the aging star who began his career as a young shoat on the long-running sitcom from the 1970s ‘Green Acres,’ was unavailable for comment.”