O Death, Where is Thy Sting?
*Presented at the 2019 Mormon Transhumanist Association Conference on Saturday, April 15, 2019.
I remember the first time I met Death. It was a brief and horrifying experience. The second time I met Death was far more alluring. The second time I couldn’t tell if Death was friend or foe. Despite these two interactions with Death I still do not know Death and prefer to keep it that way.
I was formally introduced to death in 2010. I had only heard whispers and myths of its existence but didn’t take Death seriously until it threatened the life of my unborn child.
I knew him before he was born. He was more than a figment of my imagination or the projections of a loving mother. I knew him as much as anyone could know a human that lived inside them. We shared the same flesh and blood for nine months and every time I vomited, I clutched my abdomen and whispered to him, “We’re okay. I’m going to get you here safely.” Every pill I gagged on to combat pregnancy induce anemia, I assured him, “We’re okay. I’m going to get you here safely.” Whether I was saying these things to him or myself didn’t really matter. For those nine months we were the same.
I was 26 years-old and lying naked and awake on operating table. A team of talented doctors and nurses attempted to safely extract a human body from my splayed uterus. Due to the complexities of my anatomy and biology this wasn’t a routine c-section. Though my uterus was a deformed mutate mess of a womb, it got the job done. It gestated two tiny cells into a full-grown baby—my son—who was still nestled safely inside me.
Yet, as a laid there on the operating table, the promise I whispered to my son so many times was no longer in my hands. His safety and welling being was out of my control. I was compelled to trust in a power outside myself when my power alone proved insufficient.
My husband sat on the stool next to the operating table. We exchanged smiles. He never got used to watching the doctors cut into my flesh, so we simply stared into each other’s eyes, perhaps more for his sake than mine.
The c-section seemed longer than the previous c-section I has two and a half years prior. I began to worry. The tone of the room shifted. Muffled voices spoke with urgency. Our son rotated from a transverse position to a breech position with his head stuck inside my uterus. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. With each pull the cord was strangling him. The anesthesiologist noticed my heart rate rapidly increase on the machine next to me. He tried to calm me down, but it was useless. How could I calm down? Our child was suffocating! I felt a sudden amount of pressure on my abdomen as the nurses pushed with their bodies. I felt a huge rush of relief as the weight of our baby left my spinal column. One of the doctors said, “He’s here! He’s out.”
I tried to compose myself waiting for our baby to cry, but there was no sound. No crying. No breathe. Nothing. The silence was terrifying.
In the quiet chaos my husband stood up to see him, but the nurse abruptly interjected, “Dad, sit down.” There was too much force in her tone. Something was very wrong.
I managed to choke out, “Why can’t I hear him crying?” Everyone ignored me as I lied there exposed on the operating table. I looked over at my husband and there was panic in his eyes that I rarely see. He stepped back from the blue sheet separating me from our son and bowed his head to the floor. He seemed to be praying.
The doctors rushed to help our little blue infant.
Everything was happening so quickly. I heard one nurse saying, “Pump him! Again! One more time.” I heard the clicking of more machines working to resuscitate my son. I didn’t know what was going on and frankly, I didn’t care, all I wanted was to hear my son cry. I felt completely helpless.
Finally, I heard him. It wasn’t a strong scream from a thriving baby, but it was enough to let us know he was alive. At that moment his muffled cry was the most wonderful sound in the world. I couldn’t help but cry with him. I looked over at my husband to see his eyes filled with tears too. It was less than five minutes until the doctors resuscitated our baby, but even five minutes to too long to believe your child is dead.
This was the first time I met Death. It was a brief and horrifying experience.
If you asked my now thriving nine-year-old son about his entrance to the world, he will tell you he was resurrected. Well, he likely won’t answer you because he’s shy, but I’ll tell you what he told me. “If people don’t believe in resurrection, they need to talk to me, because I know things about heaven and resurrection that other people just don’t understand.” In his mind, resurrection is a matter of if, but a matter of when. Simply put, the longer someone has been dead, the harder it’s going to be to resurrect them. We are resurrecting people every day, we just need to get better at it.
In his model, there isn’t just one resurrection, there are many possible resurrections. You can be resurrected as many times as you need. In his case, we had the necessary technology to resurrect him. If he had been born fifty years earlier, he would have been one of the many babies buried by a grieving mother. However, modern technology changed all that.
My son further expanded on his theory by explaining to me, “If I died and now I’m alive this is heaven right now. Because I died as a baby, then I was resurrected by the doctors here. So this has to be heaven—or at least one type of heaven.”
For Mormons, this is not a new notion. In Doctrine and Covenants we read the earth must be sanctified from all unrighteousness and prepared for celestial glory. And how do we sanctify the earth of unrighteousness? We rid it of sin, and as the scriptures taught one sin is death. In Corinthians we read “the sting of death is sin,” and in Moses we read the glory of God is to bring to pass the immortality of humanity. Not only that, it is prophesied in our scripture that celestial glory is right here on earth and celestial bodies will poses it forever and ever. This is the promise if we choose it. But we have to choose it. God doesn’t override human agency, and we are not idle participants waiting for God to do for us what we must do for ourselves. 
According to Mormon scripture, my son is right. This is heaven and we will not receive heaven’s highest degree of celestial glory unless we choose it according to both our faith and works.
Everyday I see my son’s smiling face I am reminded that there were doctors and technologist that decided death was sin. They watched dead babies be pulled from their mother’s bodies and decided, “No more. We can fix this. No mother should have to bury their baby.”
The second time I encountered death I wasn’t scared, because it wasn’t my child’s life that was threatened. It was mine.
My third pregnancy proved to be far worse than the previous two combined. The nine months after conception were excruciating. Every complication I had previously endured was heightened, causing a whole new set of complications. I developed malnutrition from vomiting that was far more persistent than before. I was losing weight and retaining too much fluid due to the polyhydramnios. I developed anemia and suffered from chronic low blood pressure. I would randomly lose vision and blackout. I needed to have surgery during my second trimester due to digestive complications that were more painful that anything I had ever experienced in my life. After suffering from eight months of hyperemesis gravidarum, I decided to stop eating. I could no long bear to vomit. Starving seemed less painful than vomiting. I lived off of supplements and broth. I lost more weight. I could no longer walk up and down the stairs, at least not without my husband helping me. My skin turned to a lifeless shade of white as the anemia persisted. My body was falling apart. I did not doubt my will to give my daughter life, but my body wouldn’t comply.
The morning of the c-section came as usual. They prepared my body, and once again I was hooked to machines that had a new found presence in the room. I didn’t even mind the piercing of the metallic needle inserted into my spine. It seemed routine by now. I lied down flat on the operating table and listened to the humming of the machines while the doctors cut into my abdomen one more time. My husband lovingly brushed his hand across my forehead and swept my dark hair from my eyes. We waited together to hear our daughter cry.
Right on schedule, she arrived perfectly as planned—healthy and strong. I smiled at my husband with relief. He held out our baby girl for me to see. I wanted nothing more than to reach out and hold her, but my arms had lost their feeling. Instinctively, my husband saw the wordless yearning in my eyes and brought her closer to me so that our cheeks could touch for a brief moment before taking her to the nursery. I watched them leave as I stayed behind for the remainder of the surgery where I would be sterilized.
As the doctor operated, she asked me, “Do you mind if we bring in some staff to look at your uterus?”
I mildly laughed with a humorously vivid case of déjà vu. After experiencing three c-sections, multiple surgeries, and invasive procedures, physical modesty was a laughable concept to me. This wasn’t the first time a doctor wanted a viewing of my internal anatomy. I confidently and softly said one more time, “Absolutely, anything for science.”
She continued operating on me and said, “Thank you. I’ve never seen anything like your uterus before.”
I replied, “I get that a lot. I actually don’t need it anymore. I don’t mind donating it.”
Her voice became serious through her surgical mask, “You need this still. It’s full of red blood cells. You’ve lost a lot of blood and you’re not fully recovered from your pregnancy induced anemia. You need this so you can get better. You’ve given enough today.”
I didn’t have the strength to respond to her. I waited patiently through the procedure in silence.
I listened to the humming of my beloved machines that were intimately connected to my nude body. While the doctors operated on me, I couldn’t fight an overwhelming sense to sleep. I was tired and weak. All I wanted to do was close my eyes and dissolve into the darkness. As I closed my eyes, I welcomed the warmth of the blackness. The gentle beeping of the machine monitoring my heart beat began to slow. It was peaceful and inviting. I indulged. It was so easy. Time didn’t seem relevant. I couldn’t even feel the pain anymore. In fact, I couldn’t feel anything at all.
A man’s voice interrupted my tranquility, “You need to open your eyes. Can you hear me?”
From the opposite side of the room, a woman’s voice said with criticality, “Her heart rate is still dropping.”
The man repeated with more force in his tone, “Can you hear me!?”
I could hear him but responding seemed impossible. The nothingness was heavy.
I felt pain as I tried to regain consciousness. I didn’t care for it. My eyes slowly fluttered open to see the blurry face of my anesthesiologist. Unable to comprehend the severity of his demand, I was only mildly annoyed by the interruption. I closed my eyes to retreat and I muttered, “I just want to rest.”
His voice seemed more urgent, “No. You need to stay awake. I heard you have two boys. Can you tell me about them? What are their names?”
I paused, motionless in the blackness of my mind trying to recall. I could see their faces, but I couldn’t recall their names. How could I forget children’s names? I’m their mother. My mind wasn’t mine, and I felt ashamed. I finally had the strength to open my eyes which seemed abnormally heavy in their sockets. I slowly said, “Preston and William? Yes, I have two sons. I love them so much. I… I have a daughter too.”
He replied, “Yes. She’s perfect. Can you tell me her name?”
I strained. Trying to remember. The word spilled from my mouth, “Elizabeth.”
The woman in the background said, “Her heart rate is beginning to stabilize.”
I continued, “Can I…can I rest now? It will only be a moment.”
He persisted, “No, you can’t. You need to stay with us. Tell me about your children.” The anesthesiologist persisted on continuing our foggy conversation for several minutes until the surgery was complete. I’m sure if we had met under other circumstances, I would have found him far less annoying. Regardless, I’m grateful he kept me out of the numbness that beckoned me.
In time, I was sewn back together. My obstetrician walked over to me, took off her mask, placed her hand on my head and said, “You did it. You have a baby girl. Congratulations.”
My heart was so full of love and gratitude that a tear rolled down my cheek. All I could say to her was, “Thank you.”
The second time I met Death was far more alluring. The second time I couldn’t tell if Death was friend or foe. The second encounter taught me that quality of life was just as important as the quantity of life. We all need something worth living for.
When I look at my thriving five-year-old daughter, I cannot help but see the pure embodiment of quality of life. She lives everyday with new excitement and wonder. She is a creator dreaming up vision that defy impossibility.
The other day she called to the kitchen, “Mom! Mom! Look what I made!” She had taken her Finding Nemo fish, collected my mason jars among with other kitchen tools, and filled them with water to make her own personal aquarium.
Upon entering the kitchen, she said, “Look, Mom! I made an aquarium for all my fish.”
I smiled at the detail and care such put into her creation that was now covering the dripping countertops and said, “That’s really creative. How did you come up with the idea? How did you make this?”
My five-year-old-daughter looked back at me as if I was patronizing her and replied, “Mom, don’t you know I can create anything?”
At what age do we become so jaded or cynical that we lose our belief in possibility? At what age did we stopped believing that we can create anything? At what age did we throw up our arms in defeat when our visions become harder to achieve?
How could the impossible ever become possible if it’s possibility cannot even be envisioned? Impossibility is a state of mind that favors obedience to conventionalism over the courage to create. A child doesn’t waste energy imagining what could be impossible. She imagines what could be possible and how to make her visions a reality. She truly believes, she can create anything.
I receive criticisms regularly about my work focusing too much on social issues and not enough with “real transhumanist” issues. For me, this is a matter of quality verses quantity. Transhumanism has generally been concerned with give us quantity of life, but what about quality? And when I say quality, I’m not limiting quality of life to medical conditions such as sickness, injury, aging, or infirmity. I’m talk about a quality of life beyond that. What good is a healthy body if it’s enslaved? What good is a healthy body if you are never are granted social allowance to share with a lover of the same gender? What good is a healthy body if its morphology or anatomy are grounds for subjugation, exclusion, marginalization, or discrimination? What does quality of life mean for women’s bodies? Black bodies? Poor bodies? Queer bodies? Brown bodies? Enslaved bodies? Beaten bodies? Oppressed bodies? What good is a healthy body, without love?
For the critics of my queer work, I ask, what kind of future are you building? Is it one where my queer peers are killing themselves? What kind of a future is that if it’s a future that they don’t even want to live for? No nanotechnology, terraforming, bio medicine, or pill can compensate for telling us we can’t be with the people we love—all the people we love. Robotics nor space colonization can compensate for taking away our hope. A future where cis-supremacy, hetero-supremacy, white-supremacy and mono-supremacy say we are less than other members of society is a dystopian future, regardless of if we are on earth or Mars. A future of eternal discrimination and subjugation needs to be resisted with every ally we can muster. This is transhumanist activism. If you’re creating an immortal future built on the oppression of others, your transhumanist vision is hell for us.
For the critics of my transhumanist work, I ask, once we’ve achieved gender liberation, racial equality, or sexual liberation, what’s next? We all answer to the biggest oppressor of all, Death. This is an oppressor who doesn’t care about your gender, your sexual orientation, your race, your likes, your dislikes, your religion, your family, your hopes, your dreams, your life. It doesn’t love you, it doesn’t hate you, it doesn’t feel, it doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t eat, it doesn’t get tired, or stop. Death exterminates, consumes, and negates life. Death comes for all of us.
Oppressive systems will unfairly afford more time and life to some over others, and this is exactly why we need social work in the transhumanist movement. Death shouldn’t come to a black woman in labor any more than it did to me. We shouldn’t ignore the discrepancies of maternal mortality rates according to race. Death shouldn’t come to a trans woman any earlier than a cisgender woman, yet where are the transhumanists taking a stand against violence perpetrated against trans bodies?
We are all running from the same demonic monster, and while that monster consumes life at an unchallenged banquet table, you and I squabble over the scraps Death left lying on the floor. Death gave us so little time that we squabble like vultures over whose sexual orientation or gender identity is legitimate or not. We fight over nations and plots of land that don’t belong to any of us. We draw imaginary boarders in mother earth that somehow make it okay to take a child from a migrant mother’s arm. Neither death nor us should be the ones to take a baby from her mother. Death mocks us. We bicker with each other while Death feasts.
Naysayers will doubt that Death is an oppressor, let alone one we should take a stand against. They may claim, it’s only natural. Natural selection will run its course. Yet, may I remind you that according to natural selection, I’m supposed to be dead. Do you understand what I’m saying? If death is something I’m supposed to just accept, then my children I and should be dead. I argue that instead of building coffins for babies, let’s build technologies that keep them breathing. We are already taking up arms against death every day. We are resurrecting those that would have been presumed dead and working towards a future where no body is beyond resuscitation. As a species, we are fighting the oppressor and always have been. It’s time we set aside our differences and take our efforts against Death seriously.
I’m not so naive to think this is an easy task, or that immorality and resurrection don’t come with a new set of philosophical and logistical problems that can be explained away with a bedtime story. I do not think that I will somehow achieve immortality on my own or that I won’t die. I’ll probably die, and so will you. Just as it was with my son, his survival and my survival is beyond my individual power. I had to rely on others, and now we have to rely on each other. If there are doctors that can resurrect my son, perhaps someday there will be doctors that can resurrect me. Someday the hearts of the children might be turned to their parents. I gave my children life. I’m kind of hoping they return the favor. I’m not saying this is going to be easy. I’m saying this is what our scriptures have prophesied.
That’s what I’m proposing. I am proposing we, as Mormons, take our scriptures seriously, and actually put our faith in what we are talking about. This is the spirit of Elijah. I’m suggesting that together, as the body of Christ, we can someday truly say, “O death, where is thy sting?”
 Doctrine and Covenants 88:18
 1 Corinthians 15:56
 Moses 1:39
 Doctrine and Covenants 88:18-22
 Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-27
 James 2:26, Revelation 20:12, Doctrine and Covenants 76:111, 1 Nephi 15:32, Doctrine and Covenants 137:9