Cryonics and Death

     A few months ago, there was a story in the news that relates to an interesting aspect of death— cryonics. Cryonics is the science of using extremely cold temperatures to preserve a human body, with the hope that life can be restored in the future, when we have the technology/ knowledge to do so. The news article explored the case of a 14 year old girl who died of cancer, whose dying wish was to be cryogenically frozen (the court ended up ruling in her favor and if you’re interested, the articles can be accessed below).

     The concept of cryonics is one thing and the ethics of cryonics, another. Personally, I don’t think cryonics is, or ever will be, feasible— the vast majority of science deem it an impossible task, and I think we’re simply wasting resources, time and research that can be put to better use. However, if we did manage to revive the actual human body— the cadaver— reviving the human brain is an infinitely more complex and intricate task. But let’s go along with this idea. If both the human body and brain were revived, how can we ensure the health/ quality of life or that the revival would result in the same individual? Would personality or memories, the very essence of a person, be preserved? If so, to what quality or to what extent? It’s incredibly hard to believe that after cryopreservation, that the mind, body and brain would not be fundamentally changed. Again, let’s play along and suppose that all the logistics of cryonics were perfected and the same individual could be brought back to life. The bigger question then arises— is it ethical and should we do it?

     Successful cryonics would shatter our very notion of life and death. In my opinion, humans were not meant to be brought back to life; it’s against our very nature. Life is a natural of death and death is a natural part of life. I understand that many people are uncomfortable and afraid of death and what it entails, but on the flip side, what would an essentially immortal life mean for humanity? Imagine what life would be like, waking up hundreds of years later, in a completely unfamiliar place and time, with no family or friends. What quality of life would you have? Cryonics would affect virtually every aspect of society — the economy, environment, religion, education, population etc… The desire for immortality has intrigued humans for thousands of years, yet death is natural for humans and I think that cryonics, especially if you benefit financially (like cryonic companies do), is little cruel because you may very well be giving people false hope, in one of their most vulnerable states.

     On a last note, however, my stance is softened a little bit when I consider cases like this little girl, where she didn’t get a chance to live her life. It’s one thing, if you want to be immortal or have a longer life for selfish reasons, but another, to simply want a chance to experience the world, because at the end of the day, I do think that everyone should at least deserve a chance at life.

The news article links:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/nov/18/teenage-girls-wish-for-preservation-after-death-agreed-to-by-court

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/18/cancer-girl-14-is-cryogenically-frozen-after-telling-judge-she-w/

 

One response to “Cryonics and Death

  1. Namrata Verghese

    I found your perspective on this contentious topic really interesting—thank you for sharing! I’ve personally been fascinated with cryonics ever since I heard the rumor that Walt Disney was frozen after his death in third grade. (He wasn’t, for the record—it was just a pervasive, now-debunked rumor that you can read more about here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/54196/disney-ice-truth-about-walt-disney-and-cryogenics.) The idea of life after death has intrigued humans throughout history; our understanding of possible afterlives, or theories of mortality and immortality, all essentially stem from this morbid curiosity. In my opinion, contemporary interest in cryonics is rooted in the same interest—a hope that life goes on after it ends, a hope that death is not an ultimate end.

    Like you, I have doubts about the logistical feasibility of cryonics, and you noted that your opinion aligns with that of the vast majority most scientists. However, in the hypothetical scenario you outline, I would expect that such occurrences would fundamentally change our understanding of life and death, as well as societal interpretation of the meaning and nature of death. For example, for some, most likely those of a lower socioeconomic background, the cost of cryonics would render it an impossibility. Thus, we would implicitly place a higher value on the lives of those with the resources and ability to use the technology by facilitating the extension of their lives. Wouldn’t that change one of the fundamental pillars of our society—the notion that, whatever you were in life, death serves as the ultimate equalizer? This is just one of the many questions your post raises for me, and barely scratches the surface of the ethical issues this procedure forces us to confront. It’s a really fascinating topic!

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