Christianity and Cryonics: Questions and Answers
Cryonics, like heart surgery, is a scientific approach to extending human life that does not violate any religious beliefs or their principles. The morality of cryonics is based upon the sanctity of human life, and the ethical imperative of continuing care of unconscious patients for whom there is still hope. The following questions and answers show that cryonics is strongly consistent with Christianity.
What is Cryonics?
Cryonics is the science of cryopreserving and caring for terminal patients after contemporary medicine can no longer treat them effectively. Patients placed into cryopreservation have the potential of being cured and returned to health with the advanced techniques of future medicine. The Alcor Life Extension Foundation is a non-profit organization that offers cryopreservation to its members. The scientific basis for cryonics lies in the fields of cryobiology, neurobiology, and an area of technology still in its infancy called nanotechnology.
Today's cryonics patients must be cryopreserved with imperfect methods after they are pronounced legally "dead" by a physician. The pronouncement of legal death and the use of imperfect preservation methods leads to confusion about both the workability of cryonics and its morality. Cryonics is often equated with "raising the dead" or trying to avoid a spiritual afterlife or God's judgement.
Does Cryonics involve raising the dead?
No. Cryonics cannot provide life after death. Cryonics is just another kind of life-saving technology, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
We believe that today's medical criteria for "death" are flawed and inappropriate by the standards of future medicine. For example, when an otherwise healthy man "dies" of a heart attack, his brain (which is the seat of his memories, personality, and identity) is still intact. By placing him into cryopreservation immediately after physicians determine they cannot restart his heart, we can preserve his brain until it is possible to cure him. Indeed, even today many heart attack victims are successfully resuscitated despite the fact that only 50 years ago they would have been given up as dead.
As this example illustrates, criteria for pronouncing "death" have changed as medicine has advanced. At the time of the New Testament, physicians could not resuscitate people after heartbeat and breathing ceased. But today's physicians can often resuscitate people after cessation of breathing and circulation; sometimes even after an hour or more without heartbeat, breathing, or brain-wave activity (as in cases of cold-water drowning). They know that a person's memory, personality, and identity remain within the brain even after the person stops functioning. This has been demonstrated repeatedly by the recovery of patients chilled to just-above freezing on the operating table as well as cold-water drowning victims, all clinically dead, who have recovered with complete retention of mental functions.
It is only after the brain structures critical to identity are destroyed that real death occurs. Since current cryopreservation techniques have been shown to preserve the critical brain structures (synapses) where neurobiologists believe memory is stored, it is reasonable to presume that cryonics patients could potentially be resuscitated by tomorrow's life saving technologies.
Why should Christians, who know their eternal home is Heaven, desire to remain alive physically on Earth?
The Bible says that God created man in his own image by breathing into him the breath of life. Before man's fall, immortality was his natural state. After man's fall, death became a part of his curse. It has been argued by respected Christian thinkers such as C.S. Lewis and Henry Morris that death is not a normal part of life, but is instead interference in the normal process of living.
Much of the Bible concerns itself with the relief of sickness and death. Most of the miracles of the Prophets, Jesus Christ, and the Christians throughout the ages, have involved healing the sick.
The Book of Job offers insight into the significance of life on Earth. Job opted for life even though he was mired in the deepest pit of human depravity and despair. His wife and friends pleaded with him to curse God and die, but Job chose instead to praise God and live, and live he did, for one of God's rewards for Job's faithfulness was long life.
Job is not the only biblical figure whose faith in God was rewarded with longevity. God promised the children of Israel, "And ye shall serve the Lord your God ...and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee...the number of thy days will I fulfill" (Exodus, 23:25,26). God is concerned with rectifying man's condition in soul, spirit, and body. The notion that God is not concerned with physical life on Earth is against the teachings of the Bible. In this context, modern medicine, including experimental procedures such as cryonics, is not only condoned by God, but even commanded by God.
What happens to the souls of people in cryopreservation?
If the premise that patients cryopreserved today are not dead is accepted, then the soul of a cryonics patient is in the same condition as the soul of a frozen human embryo or the soul of a person who is in a coma or unconscious.
Is cryonics mentioned in the Bible?
Not per se. However, the story of Elisha restoring life to a Shunamite boy (II Kings, 4:18-37) has features in common with both cryonics and modern resuscitation technology.
The boy's mother approached Elisha and said that her son was dead. Elisha sent his servant to lay a staff upon the child's face. When the servant did this, the Bible says that nothing happened and that there was no sign of life. The servant returned and told Elisha that the boy was still dead. When Elisha arrived, he saw that the boy indeed showed no signs of life. "He went in, therefore...and lay upon the child and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and he stretched himself out upon the child; and the flesh of the child (became) warm ...the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes."
The importance of this biblical story lies in Elisha's (God's) intent in restoring the boy to life. Certainly, any miracle in the Bible serves to establish the authority of God, His prophets and His word, but there is even more to this story. The Shunamite woman came and begged Elisha to restore her boy to life. She didn't want God to prove Himself by providing a miracle, she simply wanted her son alive. God accomplished both.
God has answered the request of people to live longer on Earth through miraculous means many times. Why, if there is nothing to be gained from living on Earth, would God honor this request so many times? Obviously, there is much good in life on Earth, and the desire to live longer is good in God's eyes.
Is life extension something of which God simply approves, or is it something that Christians should actively pursue?
The apostle Paul wrestled with a similar question, and revealed the Christian's entire purpose for earthly existence in the process.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul compares the desire to die and go to Heaven with the need to stay on Earth. No Christian would argue that Heaven is not a completely moral goal for every believer. However, Paul reveals, in plain language, why Heaven is an end that can wait. "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain... For I am in a strait betwixt the two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for the furtherance and joy of faith" (Philippians, 1:21-25, emphasis added).
Were personal salvation the end of God's plans, no Christian would need to remain on Earth after salvation. God would just take each new Christian into Heaven the way He took Enoch and Elijah. But God has much more in His plans for each Christian. Though the believer may want to go to Heaven as soon as possible, it is more needful for others that he stay here on Earth.
As was first suggested by John Warwick Montgomery in 1968, the Apostle's words in Philippians 1:24 "should become the sedes doctinae for orthodox Christian cryonics." They provide more than enough reason for Christians to desire cryonics.
Has any minister given a sermon about the morality of cryonics?
Yes. The Reverend Kay Glaesner, former pastor of St. John's Evangelical
Lutheran Church of Springfield, Ohio, gave a moving sermon on cryonics
and life extension in general. He said the following (The Christian
Century, Oct. 27, 1965):
"Christianity and the Church have always been interested in the extension of human life... that he (man/woman) might be more fruitful in bearing God's witness and doing God's work. We have in our hospitals at this very moment electronic stimulators, inhalation techniques, blood transfusions, and many other mechanical medications. These represent only a few of the prosthetics which are used and fostered by our medical sciences and are approved by the Christian Church.... It follows, therefore, that cryogenics (cryonics) can certainly be approved and substantiated by the Christian Church....
"I am all in favor of extending life. Day by day I pray that God will direct us how to use the techniques, medical sciences, healing, and miracles since He is the Physician of all physicians... life could be extended a year, one hundred years, or a thousand years, but there is still no doubt in the minds of thinking people that such (life extension)... is but a small span on the totality of God's plan. No art or craft of man will evade or nullify the judgement of God.
"The Church of Christ does not retard science...In this world of ours there are greater things, greater potentials, about 90 percent of which are still in the dark. When we discover new planets in orbit, or new dimensions in the galaxies, or new prosthetics for assisting or extending life, this only proves to us how wonderful, great, unsearchable, and inscrutable is the mind of almighty God."