The prevailing view among cryonics advocates is that cryonics patients are not dead. This view is reflected in the cryonics custom of calling people who are cryopreserved “patients” instead of corpses. We feel quite strongly about this, but to what extent do our organization and practices actually reflect this perspective?
Let us consider an event in which a person had a traumatic accident and is in a coma. There is no evidence of severe brain damage but it is not known if and when the patient will regain consciousness again. In a sense this patient appears better off than a cryonics patient because contemporary technologies are at least sufficient to sustain the patient in his current state. On the other hand, unlike the coma patient, the cryonics patient is not in a race against time and will be in a stable condition until advanced resuscitation technologies are made available.
We would be surprised, if not outraged, if we learned that family members and friends started calling a patient in a stable coma a corpse and started closing his bank accounts, selling his assets, and removing his internet presence. But this is what often happens to cryonics patients. While some of this behavior can be attributed to the different legal status of coma patients and cryonics patients, in many cases we simply don’t make the effort. Despite our objection that our patients are “not dead” we do not always act consistently with this view. Why is this important?
Acting consistently with our perspective that our patients are not dead is of crucial importance because the most formidable obstacle for people to make actual cryonics arrangements (instead of just endorsing the practice) is fear of losing their family, friends, and assets in an unknown future. Alcor’s response should not be to simply assure them that everything will be fine but to offer constructive solutions to these concerns that makes potential members feel safer.
Making potential members feel safer, and even positively interested in surviving and reaching the future, should start by broadening our presentation of cryonics to include topics such as re-integration and asset preservation. Currently, these topics (if discussed at all) are delegated to a dark corner on the Alcor website as if such concerns are just afterthoughts. We need to think of better ways to integrate these topics in our presentation of cryonics to the general public.
When someone decides to become an Alcor member (s)he should be issued an Alcor email address with the assurance that this email address will remain functional during cryopreservation and that Alcor will keep updating technologies to let communication options evolve with the times. Alcor can also offer a secure space on the main website where personal data and memories can be stored. After cryopreservation of the patient, authorized family members, relatives and/or Alcor should be able to update this space as well.
An even more ambitious realization of this idea is for Alcor to appoint a reintegration staff member whose sole responsibility is to help members maintain a presence during cryopreservation by assisting the member in preservation of assets and execution of trusts. This person could also function as a liaison between family members / friends and the patient during cryopreservation.
I think moving in this direction could go some way towards reducing the fears that people have about alienation and loss in the future. It is interesting to reflect why such efforts have not received a more important place in the history of Alcor. I think the most obvious answer is that Alcor has a hard enough time keeping the organization running and making sure members get a good cryopreservation. But I suspect there is also another reason. The people who have shaped most of Alcor’s presentation and policies are invariably “hardcore” advocates of cryonics and combine a strong desire to survive with a strong confidence in the technical feasibility of the idea. It would be a mistake to base our presentation and implementation of cryonics on such an unconventional subset of the population. We need to keep calibrating our presentation and services until it all becomes hugely attractive, instead of a source of anxiety.
Originally published as a column in Cryonics magazine, July, 2014