Preserving the Case for Hope
Cryonics, or cryopreservation, is “the process by which any living cells, tissues, organs or entire bodies are protected from decay by storing them at extremely low temperatures”1. Its purpose is to preserve a person’s body until a cure can be found for his or her cause of death, after which the body can be brought back to life. The subject has been the subject of immense controversy, with both sides bringing both ethical and scientific arguments to the table. While the scientific arguments for the use of cryonic preservation are strong, they are beyond the scope of this article and pose less controversy than the ethical side of the discussion. For those interested in the science behind cryonics, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation website is a great source of information. However, I will instead be considering here the ethical arguments surrounding cryonics. I will be making the case in favor of cryonic preservation as a morally permissible practice that is a benefit to society.
These arguments can best be explained by example. One of these examples made headlines this year when a young teenager passed away due to cancer in London in October2. As she explained to the jury that heard her case, and ultimately upheld her right to cryonic preservation, she was afraid to die, especially so young. She hoped that by preserving her body, she may one day be cured of her disease and be able to live again. In fact, it was this idea that brought her the most comfort in her last days.
This girl’s case is representative of the situations that have caused people to seek cryonic preservation. While there are certainly those who are simply curious or in favor of scientific advancement, the most controversial cases are the individuals who choose the technique for emotional relief, from oftentimes heartbreaking circumstances. Cases such as these include the parents in Thailand who chose to have their two-year old daughter preserved in hopes of reconnecting with her later, stating that “It was our love for her that pushed us towards this dream of science… surely our society is moving towards a new kind of thinking that can accept this”3. Other families that chose cryonics include that of major league baseball player Ted Williams, whose children pushed for the preservation as the Mr. Williams’ health declined. In an memoir following his death, his daughter Claudia wrote that “my family chose cryonics out of love… Our father knew we needed something to hold onto for hope and comfort and when we missed him the most, and if cryonics was the answer, then the solution was simple”4. For these families, cryonic preservation is more than a scientific experiment: it is a way of preserving hope for a future life together. Though it is only one of many possible sources of comfort in times of loss, it is significant for many families, and carries no ethical implications for anyone other than themselves.
Furthermore, cryonics is nearly entirely privately funded, either by the patient’s family or their insurance policy1. Therefore those that choose to undergo this process, which is extremely costly, pay for it themselves. There is no public price to pay for their choice of action, and there is potential benefit in finding cures for those who are preserved, which may then be applicable to the public in the future. In brief, the fact is that cryonic preservation, regardless of the emotions that it brings up, has brought and continues to bring families comfort in times of great loss and grief. Considering this nearly non-existent societal burden, it is seems unjustifiable to deny families the right to choose this option.
1 Senthilingam, Meera. “What is cryogenic preservation?”. CNN, 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.
2 Smith-Spark, Laura. “UK teenager wins battle to have body cryogenically frozen”. CNN, 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.
3 “Frozen child: The youngest person to be cryogenically preserved.” BBC, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.
4 McCormack, David. “We Did It Out of Love.” Daily Mail, 19 May 2014. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.