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My novel is a fantasy, so it doesn't need to be completely accurate, but I still want a (somewhat) plausible solution. My world is a steampunk inspired Earth-like planet with magic. There are people whose bones degenerate and completely dissapear (including the skull) once they reach adulthood. The two outcomes I have are:

  • They collapse and die (but I am unsure how death would occur)
  • The bones get coated with a liquid metal through medical/magical procedure (if they have enough money to pay for it). The metal hardens really slowly and replaces the lost bones

I was wondering if replacing the bones is a wise decision and if there could be less invasive (and cheaper) options for my characters. Magic is quite expensive, but can be used combined with medicine, engineering, etc.. Also, not everybody can use magic, so I would rather have a medical solution or a combination of the two.

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    $\begingroup$ If your bones are dissolving because of magic then I suspect the only options are use magic to fix it or die slowly. Spines can’t be replaced. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Dec 22 '17 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ If they die, their only regret will be they have boneitis. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Dec 22 '17 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ Poorly - when I was a teen, I had a friend who had a congenital defect that left him with a badly atrophied skeleton. I can't remember the name of the condition, but he had difficulty even breathing. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Dec 23 '17 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ They will die of asphyxiation, no rib cage means there is no rigid cavity to generate negative pressure, which is what mammalian lungs need to work. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 9 '18 at 7:05
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I`m going to propose three different results following the information given by you:

Rich people

  • Money is not a problem, therefore magic is the safest, easiest and more acceptable option. No disabilities are gonna be generated by this intervention, some individuals might even be able to perform tasks considered impossible through the lower weight and effects of magic.

Middle-class

  • Money is there, but not in an "unlimited" or uncontrolled form. Magic is an option but not as the complete solution. These people would generally choose to recreate important parts of the skeleton (like joints and the skull) with magic, and would recur to engineering/science on the lesser important bones, creating a fully operational skeleton which could probably be considered better than their original skeleton given the magic parts and possible engineering improvements.

Poor people

  • This group does not have access to magic whatsoever. Their only solution is engineering/science and even these may be present on lower qualities. The solution in these situations may be temporary or even partial, situations where only basic bones would be implemented simply to prevent death are gonna be common. Given the lack of money, the quality of the service is going to be low, materials are not gonna be as good as they should and the professionals are going to have quantity over quality. Even those who can afford complete skeletons are gonna have difficulties to adapt to their new structure and may have complications given the complexity of the surgery.
  • Another option here are external skeletons, but these would probably not be seen well by the community, turning them into excludes and creating preconceptions related to these beigns.
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Problem

You have several problems once your skeleton vanishes. Your solution must solve all of them, not just the most obvious ones:

  1. Bones protect organs. So now your brain is damaged if you bump your head on something. Or your lungs collapse if you run into someone in the hallway.
  2. Bones provide mobility. Without bones, your muscles have nothing to pull against. So there goes your ability to walk, talk, etc.
  3. Bones provide shape. If you collapse into a pile of soft tissues, all kinds of problems happen. You can't breath. Your nerves are all pinched. Your blood vessels are all pinched as well....
  4. You are no longer making blood. Bones produce white and red blood cells.

So you need a solution that solves all four of these issues, not just the obvious shape issue.

Temporary fix

Maybe there are magical potions that slow or delay the deterioration. This is the cheapest thing available, so it's all your lower-income folks can get. The potion halts the effects of your disease for a while. So poor people take it as often as they can, but not as often as they should. Monthly, maybe. They all have early-onset osteoporosis and/or leukemia. But they get the treatment often enough that they don't just die outright.

Middle class citizens can afford the treatment perhaps weekly. So their bones weaken over time, but so slowly that they don't really notice.

Meanwhile, the wealthy take this potion daily and never suffer any effects. They can delay the disease indefinitely.

(If potions aren't ideal, then these are glowing green liquids that are administered via glass syringes, painfully...)

Permanent fix

The most wealthy people have some kind of magical cure. Maybe its a ritual that requires a couple of days in a complex machine that takes up a whole room. The inner workings of this contraption are a closely guarded secret. The facility that maintains the machine(s) is in some remote place. Hard to get to, easy to secure, protected. Think of a mountain-top chalet with difficult approaches (because the wealthy want nice views).

This machine uses the same kind of magical sources as the injection, but at vastly higher concentrations. The process takes up to a week. It is painful, arduous, and unpleasant. It leaves physical scars that mark the person (like the Polio vaccine scars).

The rich see it as both a rite of passage and a barrier to entry. Only the wealthy can afford to book time in the Machine. Everyone talks about the experience in hushed whispers and vague euphemisms because they don't want to bring up the painful experience.

Those who can't afford it view the experience with an almost mystical awe. Maybe there are lotteries that the poor pay into, for the hopes of getting a week at the Machine.

The facility is run like an exotic resort -- clean, full of servants, well-stocked food and drink, all the amenities. And everything is designed to distract you from your daily round of treatments. Those who actually work on the Machine are treated more like priests during the Middle Ages than like modern doctors -- they know things and command respect by the virtue of their knowledge.

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    $\begingroup$ Another addition: bones are essential in creating the pressure differences needed to breathe. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Dec 22 '17 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Technically falls into problem #2: the diaphragm (responsible for breathing) is a muscle. But yes. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Dec 22 '17 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ The muscle pulls the ribs up which creates a negative pressure inside the rib cage, allowing the lungs to inflate. The weight of the ribs helps with the exhale process. $\endgroup$ – Stephan Dec 23 '17 at 2:52
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If magic can produce it, micro/zero gravity would be a non-invasive way for someone in the late and final stages of degeneration to survive without their internal organs being crushed under their own weight. Muscles would still function but in a floppy and imprecise way, requiring adapting to a more jellyfish-like mode of locamotion.

For a cheaper implementation of the same idea, suspend the body in salt water and equip the patient with a breathing apparatus.

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