Disruptive Technologies in Death and Dying: Electronics and Cold, by Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy

Wednesday, 10 Jul 2013 05:48

About Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy (120 Posts)

Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy is a Board Certified Emergency Medicine Physician, who practices in one of the largest emergency departments in the United States at Huntsville Hospital. Through her writing and speaking, she is devoted to transforming the end of life into a time of peace, closure and healing. Media Page

Disruptive Technologies are those innovations which radically transform an industry or a market, pushing out older models and ideas about how things are done. Ever think about disruptive technologies in end-of-life care? What kinds of technologies or ideas could radically change how we “do” death or how we prepare for dying as a culture?

I have been scratching my head about this one for some months and I think, for starters, there are a few novel technologies or products which are presently transforming death and dying, or are poised to do so. Interestingly, these innovations all revolve around two central ideas: Electronics and Cold

Electronics: We live, move and have our being in the “electronic age.” In my house we are so “wired” that I have mandatory “no-electronic-days” when we attempt to unplug. We put away our computers, IPads, IPhones, etc. to rest our brains, or at least, attempt to. So, how does being “wired” into an electronic sea of connections and information change how we prepare for or experience dying?

First of all, we can actually prepare for dying in a more organized and informed fashion. You can Google “when to ask for hospice care” and get 8 million results; and if you have more time than me, you can read every one. You can study articles by experts about the pros and cons of artificial life support devices in different scenarios. You can become, dare I say, an informed consumer of end of life care! Next, and even better, you can record your Advance Directives online making them (for once) readily accessible, rather than written on paper to be placed at the bottom of your sock drawer, or locked away in a cob-web-laden safe deposit box with the key as-good-as-lost somewhere in your kitchen. Then, either before or after you slip from this world, you or your family can purchase your coffin, your bio-urn or a custom “going out” container or shroud at a significant discount price online!

Secondly, our nearly unbreakable physical bond with our smart phones has allowed us to capture and publicize our lives like never before. From instagramming our child’s first taste of peas, to taking a picture of your arm laceration which I just sewed up for you in the ER, we are now documenting our lives in photo and video- in real time. And what follows is that we are just beginning to see people capturing and publicizing their own end of life journey (watch the amazing story of Zach Sobiech) (Dr Kate Granger plans to live tweet her death). I even photo-shopped a

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5 thoughts on “Disruptive Technologies in Death and Dying: Electronics and Cold, by Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy

  1. Pingback: Disruptive Technologies in Death and Dying: Electronics and Cold, by Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy | It’s OK to Die | Loss, Grief, Transitions and Relationship Support

  2. Rea

    Delivering Alpha! (best ideas!)

    Fascinating! Totally fascinating. Electronics and cold temps. I could even learn to love cold – which would be a complete life reversal. A “good freeze”!! — Lots to think about, here. LOTS. Accessible online Advance Directives. Buying the going-out container online. Online videos on death and dying. More than that, all manner of online visual/auditory images re: death and dying. The warm welcoming of ice cold. The hint of “eternal” life…! More… It boggles the mind, actually!

    We do live in a fascinating age of modern medicine and its intersection with technology. Think of all the disciplines working together – and the changes in the meaning of “interdisciplinary.” Think, also, of life as one huge, continuous lesson in bio-psycho-social changes. Instruction required, both self-administered (easier and easier to do) and “classroom.” Also “on the street.”

    The way we live, the way we die, and the way we plan are for all of this. Living so different > dying so different in its growing possibilities. And there is no doubt that those possibilities will multiply. No question that end-of-life planning is a necessity – a moral/ethical imperative. It might also be necessary to revisit and revise the written plans more often than in former times. —

    Lots to consider! Every point merits an article in its own right. So interesting!

  3. Robert Jones

    In a growing sense I think technology is blinding us to our human-ness, as well as becoming the master of our hope. With our greater emphasis on technology, the human element seems to weaken. For example, only days ago there was a boeing 777 (with excellent technology) that crashed. The evidence says the human element failed on approach to the runway. Perhaps the pilots were sleep deprived, and yet depending on technology to bail them out. Perhaps they were too mentally bonded to the new movie “Startrek” where the flying ship accelerates to warp speed in one second (not likely).

    In all areas of technology there are more questions than answers. We thought penicillin a permanent answer. Our brilliant technology was out smarted by viruses!

    I suppose another area that needs more definition is Love. A growing part of our society defines love as sex only. It seems more likely that love is all the little things that promote the possibility of, and the reality of All kinds of intimacy. All kinds of intimacy, like a firm warm handshake, kinds words, and the deeds to back them up.

    Surely we are living longer. Is that a good thing when you die in a less human way? I suggest there is a biological quality in our being that hangs on to the end and transcends technology. It is a quality that prefers a warm human hand rather than a cold robotic tube. What do you think?

    1. admin Post author

      Your words are very true. Einstein hoped that one day our humanity would catch up with our technology… but it seems like the former is sorely lagging. This is precisely why I am doing this work, to try to shed a more humanistic light on what our technology has given us, and what it has burdened us with. For instance, when a person is brain dead but their heart still beats, our gestalt is thrown off. For the first time in human history, a part of you can be dead, while the rest of the body “lives”… we do not have an inherent way of easily coming to terms with this because we experience each other as a “whole” and not as parts. I do not think of you as “Robert’s skin” when I see you, I simply see you as “Robert.” So, you are right. Increasing technology increases the number and complexity of questions we must ask ourselves when dealing with health, wellness, death and dying.


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