It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.
The premise of cryonics is simple: Do nothing, and when you die, you die forever; get cryopreserved, and when you die, maybe you get a second chance. But what does “when you die” mean, and why does it matter?
In the past, if your heart stopped beating and your lungs stopped breathing — end of story, you were legally dead. Then resuscitation technology got better and “dead” people starting rebooting. Ta-da!
So the goal posts were moved and death became popularly defined as “brain death.” Surely, you are dead if you have no measurable brain activity. Nope. People have already been brought back from that. Now, cryonic proponents say you aren’t dead… really dead… until you have suffered “information-theoretic death.”
Whatever death is taken to mean, one thing is obvious. The “fresher” you are when cryopreservation begins, the better your chances of returning. The ugly truth is that the moment you die — by any definition of death — you start to spoil. Every second that ticks by increases the amount of damage your your body and brain undergo. Finally, at some point, you will be gone, no matter how advanced the technology.
Location, location, location
So if you are planning on cryogenic preservation, you shoud try to avoid dying on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific or while hiking in the Mojave Desert. It would be best to die at a cryogenics facility. Keel over in the lobby, get thrown on a gurney, get wheeled into the cryopreservation operating room and undergo the procedure.
Even better, though, would be to start the cryopreservation before you are dead. Of course, if the cryopreservation staff were to “help you along,” the law, in most states and most countries, would likely consider that manslaughter or even murder.
However, if assisted suicide were legal, you could choose the day and time of your cryopreservation. The process itself could bring on legal death, but only after the preservation had begun. It would be a smooth transition from life to legal death to….? This would guarantee the absolutely highest cellular integrity possible and give you the best chance of being brought back in the future. Additionally, future medical technology would likely be able to bring those who have been best preserved back sooner than those who have suffered more damage. But assisted suicide isn’t legal… is it?
Assisted suicide is not legal in the vast majority of jurisdictions, but the ban is not universal and the trend seems to be moving toward legalization. In the USA, assisted suicide is verboten in all but six states. In four of those states, the law is ambiguous. However, in Oregon and Washington, laws specifically permit physician-assisted suicide. There are certain restrictions and legal requirements, but it is available. In other countries, there is a spectrum stretching from not legal to sometimes legal to legal. With the exception of Switzerland, those countries that have legal assisted suicide restrict the procedure, making it only available to residents.
Oh “death” where is thy sting?
Cryogenic companies have been operating with an emotional blind spot. They have so intensely resisted the idea that cryopreserved patients are dead, that they have forgotten that law is the exultation of form over substance. You can call the result of cryopreservation whatever you want. The name does not change the physical facts. Cryopreserved patients are alive for some purposes and dead for others. Sort of like Shrodinger’s cat. Cryogenic companies should embrace the concept of legal death, and use it to further their goals.
A modest proposal
If the goal of cryogenic companies is to save lives, legal suicide should be a viable option. Why not set up facilities in jurisdictions that permit it? Better yet, start dialogs with countries that are already promoting medical tourism. Cryogenic “death tourism” isn’t really all that different. Of course, you don’t have to call it suicide. “Early retirement” sounds better and is closer to the truth. If all goes as planned, your patients will someday come out of retirement, happy and healthy. And isn’t that what it’s all about, no matter what you call it?
Here is a list of companies that have cryopreserved patients:
Alcor Life Extension Foundation
American Cryonics Society (ACS)
Cryonics Institute (CI)
Clinton Township, Michigan
Trans Time, Incorporated
near Moscow, Russia
Sandy Sandfort is a freelance writer and entrepreneur, who lives in a volcano in Panama. Currently, he has three science fiction books on the market: The Resurrections of Robert A. Heinlein: Genesis, ESCAPE FROM TERRA, and Adventures in Human Space