Monday, January 5th, 2015 12:07 pm
I'm not sure if I've talked about this before but: every time I encounter Magical Healing/Health machines in speculative fiction (eg the sarcophagi in Stargate, the med bay in Star Trek, the machine that turned Steve into Captain America) I think about how they decide what counts as an illness/injury, and how they decide what Ideal Healthy State to go for. The line between "sick" and "healthy" is to some extent socially mandated and arbitrary, and an optimally "healthy" human population requires variation amongst the individuals. To maximise everything is impossible. You have to make choices.

If it's accelerating/helping the natural healing proceses of the body it should reverse any surgeries to fix genetic problems, remove tattoos or piercings, undo sex reassignment etc. And it certainly won't fix any genetic problems. Probably not epigenetic ones either. Wisdom teeth in bad places for everyone!

If it's working towards some Ideal Template, how is that template chosen? Why, for example, does Steve get taller? Being short isn't an illness. In some situations it's an advantage. If he had 6 fingers, would one go away? Red hair increases your risk of skin cancer, is that an illness?

And there's a lot about us that is decided by our environment. What muscles we've exercised, where our callouses are. Are callouses a good thing or bad thing?

In Copper Rose we decided the vampire healing worked off your mental model of yourself. Thus trans characters get to avoid dysphoria, people get to keep their tattoos etc. We've avoided depicting the ways this could go terribly wrong with people whose body image makes them unhappy (because we didn't feel able to approach it in a thoughtful enough way), but it would probably be a thing. And a story utilising this approach could go to a gross "you just have to think yourself well" place with character who is unhappily chronically ill when they get turned. We do give a disabled character the option of getting turned, but she is 100% happy staying disabled and does so. We also have someone with a theoretically temporary but life threatening illness who gets turned and gets better. (nb these aren't spoilers cos pretty much every major character is/has the option to become a vampire in one path or another)

Soemthing I found interesting in Mass Effect 2 is that your character comes out of being ~magically healed~ with all their old scars gone and new, weird ones in their place.

A while ago I pondered a Stargate story where a team ends up injured on a planet with a ~magical healing machine~ of the first type and some of the characters have to choose between staying injured and losing their tattoos/regaining a congenital defect that had been fixed at birth etc. And the society is neither better or worse than ours, just different in what disabilities and illnesses are treated as normal, fixable, or doomed. But then I realised I had no plot or characters so it shall stay a thought experiment :)

Anyway. Those are my thoughts! I am curious to hear other people's thoughts. I'm sure I've missed some really obvious things, but this has been noodling around in my head for years and doesn't seem to be getting any clearer. I was actually inspired to post by a post on tumblr about Steve Rogers walking out of the machine and thinking "I'm still bisexual, I guess it wasn't an illness", I have regardless ignored the mental illness aspect entirely in this post because that gets EVEN MORE COMPLICATED but it's certainly a prime example of the arbitrary line between illness and "healthy" variation.

nb: I'm not saying there's not such thing as being unambiguously sick. Despite my issues with the way Magical Healing Machines imply that "healthy" is a simple and unambiguous thing, as long as I didn't end up looking like Steve Rogers I would sign up for one in a heartbeat. I can always get my ears pierced again ;)
Monday, January 5th, 2015 06:02 am (UTC)
I'm only going to address one point, because I haven't thought about this enough to have nuanced responses - I"m guessing that in part Steve Rogers gets taller because it is about mapping to the genetic potential rather than the achieved phenotype, such that due to poverty nutrition and his other identified medical issues, he did grow as much as he might have. Which kind of goes to the 'genetic map' aspect.

(quick thought about wisdom teeth - do they come out in bad places because size of jaw and sum of size of teeth don't match? is there a way that the genetic map could be tweaked so what you end up with is people who have the full set of teeth without mucking much with the jaw?)

And I remember an SGA story where Rodney gets accidentally treated by one of the magic healing machines, and is horribly traumatised to have his breasts back again when he had gone to such effort to get rid of them.
Monday, January 5th, 2015 07:06 am (UTC)
I had tiny, tiny wisdom teeth and plenty of room for them, so if they hadn't all partially erupted and got terrible cavities I probably would have kept mine - maybe they could shrink/re-situate them rather than remove them. My brother had to have all of his and two other molars out just to be able to close his mouth.

My interest is when it comes to mental health and conditions like autism. Obviously on a spectrum, but what's fixable? What's part of your personality? I would definitely like to get rid of my depression, but even when not clinically depressed I was a very introverted person who liked lots of solitary thinking and reading time - is this making me prone to depression and isolation or was it the reverse? And what about aging - how much of that is a "disease" and how much of it should be healed?

Red hair is an interesting one, because it doesn't just increase your risk of skin cancer, it also goes along with resistance to anaesthetics and increased pain sensitivity. Hospitals in the UK (highest number and concentration of redheads in the world) routinely have extra monitoring for red-haired patients.

I always liked that Star Trek had a culturally-determined line of no gene therapy (due to the genetic wars of the past) and every time people ran into it they were horrified and appalled at the breaking of this huge taboo. Transporter copies? Fine! Artifical hearts and accelerated healing? No problem! Genetic alteration, even of the sick, even with permission? That's right out!
Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 02:55 am (UTC)
Wow. This raises great points that I confess I'd never thought of when I put one of my characters into a sarcophagus because he had a mysterious, incurable, and fatal brain ailment. The effects on him were curing of the brain disease, plus some additional side benefits: more energy, improved stamina, reversal of age-related arthritic changes in his knees and so on. Afterward, I had him monitored by the medical staff for any sign that he might be Turning Evil, which was the major side effect of repeat trips into the machine. Other than the mysterious brain disease and normal aging, my character was a healthy guy. I didn't stop to consider whether the machine might have restored his foreskin or put his wisdom teeth back in his jaw--I just assumed it would not. My theory is that the sarcophagus uses the individual as the template and is able to distinguish between cosmetic changes and illness.