FAQ: Moral and Ethical Questions

The moral argument for an unfixed life span is rooted in the dignity and worth of human life. Medicine recognizes the worth of human life by seeking to treat and cure fatal disease, religion recognizes the worth of human life by praying for the sick to get better, and law recognizes the worth of human life by the illegality of murder. The operating principle in all cases is that no one should die against their will. In other words, the moral argument for an unfixed life span is the immorality of advocating the alternative: conditions in which people are forced to die by a specific time whether they are ready or not.

Collectivists may argue that even when someone is not ready to die, they should still die in the interest of greater social good. However it’s a strange social good that requires sickness and death for every man and woman on earth, willing or otherwise. This is a doctrine of serial mass extinction, not social good. It is generational genocide.

Fortunately our quality and length of life continues to improve as biomedical knowledge increases, ill-considered ethical objections notwithstanding. Since even ethicists opposed to human longevity are not particularly known for rejecting medicine when they need it, one may reasonably assume they will remain among the first in line to “take the pill” as advances become available.

A brilliant moral argument for the elimination of biologically programmed death has been published by philosopher Nick Bostrom in the form of a parable called The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant.

The moral argument for cryonics is that it’s wrong to discontinue care of an unconscious person when they can still be rescued. This is why people who fall unconscious are taken to hospital by ambulance, why they will be maintained for weeks in intensive care if necessary, and why they will still be cared for even if they don’t fully awaken after that. It is a moral imperative to care for unconscious people as long as there remains reasonable hope for recovery.

In absence of authorization from the patient or family, cardiac arrest does not create an exemption from this rule. Patients in cardiac arrest are still cared for — sometimes for hours in hypothermia cases — until a qualified physician makes a legal determination that further care is not appropriate. The operating principle is that care should not be withdrawn while there is still a chance of resuming a quality life.

We know that most diseases and injuries that are fatal today will be easily treatable in the future. We know that death will be defined differently when it is possible to recover patients after hours of warm cardiac arrest. Finally, we know that vitrification appears to preserve the physical basis of the mind, which is the primary requirement for recovery by future medicine. In short, we can today place patients into a state that appears treatable by foreseeable medicine.

It is morally wrong to not administer CPR, and not help victims into a waiting ambulance. It is morally wrong to throw people away who could be helped by medicine we can see coming.

The belief that cryonics is an indulgence of the rich is a myth. For a young person, the lifetime cost of cryonics is no greater than that of smoking, cable TV, regular eating out, or even a daily cup of coffee. Most of Alcor’s membership is middle class, and funds cryonics by life insurance. Cryonics is within reach of any healthy young person in the industrialized world who plans for it.

The same question could be asked about any medical procedure, not just cryonics. Those asking such questions should begin by giving up their late model car, their cable TV, and their cappuccino for the benefit of the underprivileged of the world before asking others to give up their life!

Age is relative. Seniors seem like old folks — until you become one. Nobody who leads a productive life is happy to be diagnosed with a serious illness, regardless of their age. Nobody is happy to be told they are not entitled to care because of their age. From a future medical standpoint, an 80-year-old suffering from diseases of aging is just as treatable– and worthy of treatment — as an 8-year-old child with a broken leg today.

Also, cryonics is not just about the “aged.” Serious illness strikes all age groups, and people of all ages have been cryopreserved, including children.

A couple with two children that chooses cryonics is splitting their wealth four ways. A couple that chooses to have four children instead of cryonics is still splitting their wealth four ways. Since there is no moral outcry against couples having four children instead of two (thereby depriving their eldest children of a larger inheritance) there should be no moral concern about families choosing cryonics.

This question springs from the stereotype of cryonics as a shady business run by cynical opportunists misleading a gullible public. This stereotype is false. The Alcor Foundation is a nonprofit organization. Alcor has full-time employees, but no one has ever grown rich through cryonics. Money from our members is spent on facility operating expenses, clinical procedures, research and educating the public about cryonics. Blocks of funding are also set aside in the Patient Care Trust to provide for long-term care of patients. See The Cost of Cryonics for a breakdown of the many expenses of cryonics.

Cryonics is not just a business, but a dream pursued by dedicated people who are determined to do everything they can to make it work for themselves, their families, and fellow Alcor members. Alcor is grateful to the many volunteers who donate their time because they believe there is a genuine chance that cryonics can be made to work. Our facility has been scrutinized by physicians, attorneys, coroners and health officials. Alcor is a serious, sincere establishment. There are numerous scientists and physicians on our advisory boards, and our membership is overweighted by health professionals, scientists, and engineers. The people attracted to Alcor generally do not fit the “gullible” stereotype.

See also the article Does Cryonics Offer False Hope?

Various people disapprove of cryonics for various reasons. Everyone is certainly free to choose whether they want cryonics personally. The morality of this decision depends on many personal factors.

Everyone is also free to voice a negative opinion about cryonics for others, although we believe that such opinions devalue human life. Incredibly there once was a time when anesthesia during childbirth was called immoral. Opponents of cryonics might consider how history will someday view their position.

Regardless of what one thinks about cryonics, it is certainly immoral to erect legal or practical obstacles to the practice of cryonics. For people who choose it, the value of cryonics is a strong and sincerely held belief. It is just plain wrong to interfere with the beliefs of others when public well-being is not concerned.

No. The burden of proof lies with those who argue against the right of mentally competent terminally ill patients to be cryopreserved if they so choose. To quote the American College of Physicians Ethics Manual:

Each patient is a free agent entitled to full explanation and full decision-making authority with regard to his medical care. John Stuart Mill expressed it as: “Over himself, his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” The legal counterpart of patient autonomy is self-determination. Both principles deny legitimacy to paternalism by stating unequivocally that, in the last analysis, the patient determines what is right for him…. If the [terminally ill] patient is a mentally competent adult, he has the legal right to accept or refuse any form of treatment, and his wishes must be recognized and honored by his physician. — “American College of Physicians Ethics Manual. Part II: Research, Other Ethical Issues.” Recommended Reading, by the Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Ethics, American College of Physicians; Annals of Internal Medicine, July 1984; Vol. 101 No. 2, pages 263-267.

The fact that we live in a world where the terminally ill cannot choose cryopreservation as a legitimate medical treatment prior to their legal death says we live in a world with laws that are inconsistent with the ethics prescribed by the American College of Physicians Ethics Manual.

Another way of answering the question is the following: if cryonics works, failure to comply with the wishes of a person who chose cryopreservation will result in certain death. On the other hand, if cryonics does not work, cryopreserving patients following their legal death (which is the current practice) injures no one; and even complying with patients’ wishes to be cryopreserved shortly before their legal death (should such become legal in the future) would only be done as a last resort to save their lives, and only when they had little life left to lose, either in quantity or quality.

Given these facts, someone who argues that cryonics does not work and that people should not be allowed cryopreservation as an available option must bear the burden of proof, for if they are wrong, their error could consign to death those who wished to choose cryonics but were denied that option.

See also the question Where does the burden of proof lie when attempting to determine the scientific truth of a proposed claim, such as the claim that cryonics will work? (the second question in the Scientists’ Cryonics FAQ).