Hal Finney’s news

Hal Finney has posted some news to LessWrong:

A man goes in to see his doctor, and after some tests, the doctor says, “I’m sorry, but you have a fatal disease.”
Man: “That’s terrible! How long have I got?”
Doctor: “Ten.”
Man: “Ten? What kind of answer is that? Ten months? Ten years? Ten what?”
The doctor looks at his watch. “Nine.”

Recently I received some bad medical news (although not as bad as in the joke). Unfortunately I have been diagnosed with a fatal disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS causes nerve damage, progressive muscle weakness and paralysis, and ultimately death. Patients lose the ability to talk, walk, move, eventually even to breathe, which is usually the end of life. This process generally takes about 2 to 5 years.

There are however two bright spots in this picture. The first is that ALS normally does not affect higher brain functions. I will retain my abilities to think and reason as usual. Even as my body is dying outside, I will remain alive inside.

The second relates to survival. Although ALS is generally described as a fatal disease, this is not quite true. It is only mostly fatal. When breathing begins to fail, ALS patients must make a choice. They have the option to either go onto invasive mechanical respiration, which involves a tracheotomy and breathing machine, or they can die in comfort. I was very surprised to learn that over 90% of ALS patients choose to die.

I’m shocked and saddened to hear that Hal’s body is betraying him like this. Despite not having spoken to him in quite some time, I have many fond memories of conversations, and I’m pleased to see he’s standing by his ideals as he fights this.