Monday, September 16, 2013

There is no theoretical limit to the number of times a person can be shot in the face

Gabrielle Giffords -- techno-inspiration.

Following where the courageous Erle C Ellis has led, I want to correct a misconception that has been much circulated and widely believed, even among medical experts: there is, in fact, no firm limit to the number of times a person can be shot in the face and survive.

Many medical scientists and  activists -- anti-gun-violence advocates, anti-gang task forces, opponents of domestic violence and so on -- have frequently misrepresented the science of ballistics so far as to convey the impression that being shot in the face even three or fours times will always kill the victim. This is nonsense.

Now, I am in no way advocating shooting people in the face. As a medical doctor, I have seen and treated people who have been shot in the face, and very serious consequences can follow from that. Still, as a scientist, my first loyalty is to the truth, and the truth is: being shot in the face is not invariably fatal, and in fact as the science of medicine advances, being shot in the face is getting less and less lethal all the time.

Certainly, if you are shot in the face repeatedly, there may be negative consequences for your health. But it's important to keep things in context: most people die of cancer, COPD, heart disease and infections, not being shot in the face.

Humans are endlessly adaptive. If we look at people being being shot in the face, they will often bite or claw at their attackers, which can be highly effective at deflecting the shot. If the bullet makes contact, the result is frequently a graze or damage to the facial bones and the soft tissues of the neck. Even several of these, taken together, are unlikely to be fatal. Every shots to the brain may not be fatal -- consider Gabrielle Giffords notable recovery.

Giffords benefited from rapid emergency response and the near availibilty of first-rate trauma care, including a neurosurgeon on standby. Without glossing over her very serious injuries, it is apparent that if every single person on earth were within ten minutes of a level one trauma center, deaths from being shot in the face -- all deaths by being shot, in fact -- would be much reduced. Therefore -- no matter how ludicriously unrealistic that scenario is as it pertains to the present moment -- it logically demonstrates that there is no necessary relationship between being shot in the face a certain number of times, and dying.

We can, and indeed should, look even further forward, to a time when humans will be able to be cloned from a single cell, our memories and thought patterns stored on hard drives in anticipation of the need to copy them onto the cloned bodies in the event of accident or violence -- such as being repeatedly shot in the face. In such a case no amount of gunshots -- even a high-velocity Gauss-type future weapon vaporizing the head and leaving only a bloody stump -- would cause true, permanent death.

In no way should we allow the incidental and irrelevant detail of the vast gap between the future society of our imaginations and the reality of the present day to cloud our reasoning -- there is no hard and fast theoretical limit upon how many times a human being can be shot in the face and live, any more than there is upon how many human beings can share a fixed amount of soil, water, or cropland. These things are theoretically limitless, however much it might be that they are limited, in practice, at the present moment.