by Roger Ley
Other stories by Roger Ley
Martin Riley was pleased to be finally putting his financial affairs in order. He’d been meaning to get around to it ever since he and Estella had married. Her pregnancy had been the final push to make the appointment with the solicitor. It was a very simple Will, there was the house, some savings, his pension and life insurance, but no trusts or shares, it was all very easy. Ms Salmon, the paralegal, was pleasant and efficient. Towards the end of the final consultation she asked him if he’d considered making a Living Will.
‘A Living Will, what’s that?’ he asked as he finished signing the paperwork.
‘It’s a legal document in which you can specify what actions you want taken if you’re no longer able to make decisions for yourself, due to illness or incapacity,’ she said.
‘Oh, end of life treatment, Do not resuscitate, and all that sort of thing,’ said Martin.
He thought that most people his age would probably think it was too soon to bother, but his father used to say, ‘You never know the moment,’ and it seemed efficient to deal with all these issues at the same time.
‘Good idea,’ he said.
‘I’ll take you through to the other office, Mary will give you the form and take a Brain State Copy, it only takes about ten minutes.’ Martin had never heard of a Brain State Copy, but Ms Salmon told him that it was a new technology that had just become available, it was revolutionising biometric identification and authorisation in many different areas.
Ms Salmon took Martin across the corridor and introduced him to Mary.
Mary led him to a technical looking chair and carefully arranged a complicated mesh cap over his head, it had a lot of wires leading from the control box.
‘Just relax, Mr Riley,’ she said, she pressed the start button and then went back to her desk to continue with her typing. Martin lay back and relaxed with his eyes closed, he felt no strange sensations, the hardware didn’t make any noise and quite soon Mary told him the process was complete. She removed the mesh cap from his head.
Martin left the lawyer’s offices and walked across the road to the Krispy Kreme outlet, he ordered a coffee and a salted caramel doughnut to celebrate the achievement of removing another of the endless, mundane tasks that seemed to dog his adult life. Months later he read that the brain state copy technology had been withdrawn because of some sort of human rights issue but thought no more about it.
Martin’s life continued, his marriage to Estella lasted for twenty years, they had two sons, Hank and Cliff. Estella had an affair with a colleague, Martin had an affair with another colleague, and they divorced but remained on speaking terms. Neither married again. Martin continued to work as a government scientist, retiring at the age of seventy when he took up new interests, golf, Bridge, amateur dramatics. He enjoyed the lack of responsibility. As he grew older, he had various ailments but they were dealt with by the ever-advancing medical science of the twenty-first century.
Eventually, at the age of ninety-eight, despite the stents, the auxiliary heart, the lab grown replacement kidney and the cocktail of blood pressure, cholesterol and arthritis drugs, medical science still couldn’t overcome the basic problem of growing old. Everything seemed to be wearing out at the same time. Martin entered a nursing home and after about a year of slow decline he was bedridden.
A month later, he was hooked up to a life support machine that ventilated his lungs, cleaned his blood, and kept him fed and watered. Dosed with pain killers and sedatives, he lay drifting between sleep and wakefulness, sometimes staring at the reflections that played on his ceiling as sunlight bounced off the small ornamental pool outside his window.
Estella, now an old lady herself but in better shape than her ex, visited Martin to say good bye. The Doctor explained that as his decline was irreversible the machine would soon be switched off, there was just the formality of gaining authorisation.
‘One of his sons could do it,’ offered Estella.
The doctor smiled, he would make that decision in his patient’s best interest, unless the patient had made a Living Will. He scrolled through the medical notes on the life support machine’s display and tapped one of the options.
Martin woke in a strange place, a place he wasn’t familiar with. He didn’t feel right at all. He was in a hospital room, stationed next to a bed which was occupied by an old man that he didn’t recognise. He couldn’t feel his arms or legs, or indeed anything. He was aware of various valves, pumps, filters and displays, and after a little experimentation he found he could pan and zoom his field of vision. There was a middle-aged man and an old woman standing on the other side of the bed.
‘Where am I?’ he asked, his voice not sounding like his own.
‘It’s best not to talk to them,’ said the Doctor to Estella. He addressed the display screen, ‘Can you confirm that you are an upload of a brain state copy of Mr Martin Riley?’
‘I’m Martin Riley.’
‘Could you confirm your date of birth please?’
Martin did. ‘What do you mean by a brain state copy?’ he asked.
‘I am Doctor Ernest Forbes, Martin Riley’s physician, and you are software which is now in control of Mr Riley’s life support unit.’
‘I don’t feel like software, I feel like me. Who is that lady standing by the bed?’
‘That is Mr Riley’s ex-wife.’
‘Ex-wife, we’ve only been married for a few months and she’s so old.’
The Doctor sighed, ‘It’s always like this,’ he said to Estella over his shoulder. ‘The confusion, the explanations.’ He addressed the machine again, ‘You have control of my patient’s life support and under the terms of his living will you have the legal right to terminate his care. Do you wish to do that?’
‘What, kill him?’ Martin asked.
‘The man is a husk, his brain is barely functioning, he can’t eat, drink, walk or talk, and he has authorised you to make the final decision about the withdrawal of his end of life care. Please consult your files for verification,’ said the Doctor.
‘It’s all right,’ said Estella. ‘There’s nothing left of him, nothing left of the man I knew. You’ll be doing him a favour.’
Martin accessed his processor and examined the patient’s digital notes. He found it easy to make his decision. The old man’s heartbeat stopped, the peaks and troughs on the display flatlined, his breathing stopped and various alarms began to sound, but Martin silenced them. The two humans and the occupant of the life support machine watched as the old man was given his release.
‘So, what now?’ asked Martin. ‘What happens to me now? Where am I going to live?’
The Doctor reached across to the screen and pressed the reset icon. There was a diminishing wail which ended abruptly as the processor began its reboot cycle.
‘It always ends badly,’ he said. He took Estella’s elbow and led her out of the room. ‘Old fashioned software, we don’t use it now, it’s too distressing, too life-like,’ he said as he gently escorted Estella down the corridor. ‘The new brain state copies aren’t self-aware and don’t resist deletion.’ Like lost souls screaming their way down to Purgatory, he thought, and shuddered.
He’d been spared the responsibility of terminating his patient’s life, but he still felt as if he’d just killed somebody.