Should cryonics be opt-out and cryothanasia opt-in?
The Case For Cryothanasia
This issue of Immortalists Magazine offers a wonderful overview of contemporary cryonics. But we need to face up to some hard truths. Every patient suspended today is cryopreserved in severely sub-optimal circumstances. The problem isn't just that most patients are suspended hours after their legal death, when effectively irreversible information loss has occurred. An even bigger obstacle to reanimation is that patients are typically suspended at an advanced age when they are a faint shadow of their former selves. This isn't the place for a treatise on personal identity, the metaphysics of enduring egos or the Hard Problem of consciousness. The fact remains: if you postpone cryonic suspension until your dotage, then you'll be suspended as a very different entity from your current guise – with all that such delay entails for your possible future reanimation. Thus over 50 per cent of people in their eighties have some degree of dementia. Your more-or-less senile 95-year-old namesake is only nominally you: more sentient creatures end up on human dinner plates. To be sure, future reanimators can provide a youthful new (organic or cyborg) body. But (for better or worse) entirely new neurons and a new connectome would be “you” only in name. By contrast, if you are suspended in optimal conditions aged, say, 75 – maybe prone to a few senior moments but otherwise cognitively intact – then suspension procedures can be optimized in every sense. Restoration, remediation and enhancement will then be up to the judgement and discretion of your reanimators – either your transhuman great-(great-) grandchildren or posthuman superintelligence.
Whether posthumans will judge reanimating archaic humans (or nonhuman animals) to be ethical or wise is another question. Perhaps posthumans will regard the Darwinian life-forms that spawned them as sentient malware – my own dark view. But by suspending ourselves with maximum fidelity, we keep their options open, and defang death for ourselves and loved ones.
Transhumanists worldwide should therefore be lobbying for regulatory change. To date, only a single patient has been cryothanased, the terminally ill software engineer Norman Hardy in 2018. Cryopreservation was performed in less than ideal circumstances (cf. “California Man Becomes the First ‘Death With Dignity’ Patient to Undergo Cryonic Preservation”). Multiple legal and ethical safeguards will clearly be vital too if cryothanasia is to be regularized. Likewise with opt-out cryonics. What’s most controversial is the prospect of cryothanasia for patients who don’t have a terminal disease. But “healthy aging” is an oxymoron; our successors will recognise aging itself as a progeroid syndrome with a terminal prognosis. So it’s a false dichotomy.
Critics accuse life-loving believers in cryonics and cryothanasia of peddling false hope. Maybe so. Yet compare the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh, which tends to get a free pass: even Godlike posthuman superintelligence would struggle to respawn you from a pile of bones or scattered ashes. Whether or not existing cryopreserved humans are ever reanimated, cryonics and cryothanasia potentially benefit more than patients. Friends, family and loved ones can be spared some of the grief of traditional bereavement. Which would you prefer: mourning at your grandpa’s grave or visiting him in the cryonics tank?
Allow me to conclude on a personal note. I intend to be cryothanased. This won't be a sad occasion; a Brompton cocktail or its equivalent will probably deliver the best time of my life. I should add that I'm not announcing my imminent exit – though parts of my Facebook friends-list increasingly resemble an obituary column. But no one should be forced to end up "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything". Science does not yet know how to cure aging. Barring a currently unimaginable breakthrough, today’s oldsters – and probably the middle-aged – simply aren’t going to make Aubrey de Grey’s “longevity escape velocity”.
A dignified life, dignified suspension and – who knows – dignified reanimation in the year 3000 should be accessible to all:
Life in the Year 3000
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