Cryonics, Society

Cryonics for Families

Alcor allows members to specify the conditions under which they do or do not want to be cryopreserved. One popular option reads as follows: “I wish Alcor to place into cryopreservation any biological remains that they may be able to recover, regardless of the severity of the damage from such causes as fire, decomposition, autopsy, embalming, etc.” Interestingly, the options available in the Alcor membership application all concern scenarios in which the circumstances of only the individual member determines whether to proceed with cryopreservation.

But what about scenarios in which, for example, a whole family makes cryonics arrangements and a catastrophic accident permits only one family member to be placed in cryopreservation? When most people consider cryonics, one of their most immediate concerns is that the procedure could be disruptive of their social and family life. Is making cryonics arrangements without considering the preferences of those around me considered to be going it alone? If we all make cryonics arrangements and one person is the victim of a terrorist attack or plane crash, would I still want to proceed? How can I be sure that my whole family will be cryopreserved under acceptable conditions?

Default cryonics wisdom has it that it is better for a person to live than to die but the outlook of someone who is anxious about the idea of cryonics seems to conform more to something like this:

I would like everyone I care about to be cryopreserved and revived but if I lose someone I care for, I’d rather not come back either.

Now this is a rather bold version of the position I am trying to characterize but it does raise an important point. Would cryonics perhaps appeal to more people if cryonics organizations offered a number of options that reflect concerns about joint cryopreservation and revival?

In this document I use conditions for cryopreservation and survival together but we are really talking about two distinct issues here. For example, it is possible that a whole family is cryopreserved but meaningful revival is only possible for one of them. Successful cryopreservation is not necessarily equivalent to successful revival. Would it be feasible and desirable to allow more flexibility regarding such scenarios? For example, should members be permitted to insist on joint revival even if a family member has been cryopreserved under conditions that permits faster resuscitation? Should a cryonics organization allow members to be thawed out and buried in case circumstances prevent their other family members to be cryopreserved?

These are difficult questions and need to be considered in more detail. We do know that most people who make cryonics arrangements care about these issues and that many people care about these issues to such an extent that they conclude that cryonics presents more of a risk than a potential benefit. In general, what would it mean for a cryonics organization to incorporate the joint preferences of families in the services it offers?

Comment by Mike Perry

About 25 years ago a case came up in which an Alcor member stated they didn’t want to be revived unless all of their children could be, and were, revived. Alcor in effect was being asked to kill this member if it was unable to save one or more others. Alcor could not agree to such an option. (This individual remained a member and is still a member today.) Short of that, however, it might be reasonable to time revivals so that all in a group are brought back together.

Originally published as a column in Cryonics magazine, July, 2015