FAQ: Spiritual Questions

Humans have been successfully cryopreserved and revived as embryos. The state of the soul of a cryopreserved person would seem to be one of quiescent waiting.

Simple cardiac arrest (stopping of the heart) is not a state of death. Resuscitation is now possible anywhere from minutes to hours after cardiac arrest depending on circumstances. In the future it will be possible to recover people from even longer intervals of cardiac arrest than is possible today. If the question is rephrased as, “Does the soul depart at cardiac arrest?” then the answer is certainly no. The answer is still no even if a doctor declares legal death, because legal death is simply a statement that further resuscitation measures are not appropriate (whether they would work or not). Whenever the soul departs, it must be at a point beyond which resuscitation is impossible, either now or in the future. If resuscitation is still possible (even with technology not immediately available) then the correct theological status is coma, not death, and the soul remains.

The ultimate limit of resuscitation is determined by the state of the brain. Once all physical traces of memory and personality are erased from the brain, resuscitation of the original person becomes impossible by any technology. The loss of these traces must correspond to loss of the soul.

The loss of all brain information that makes a person unique means that person has vanished from this world, and they are beyond reach of anything that can be created by man. Without special cooling, this likely occurs some hours after clinical death. Sometimes this can happen even when the heart is still beating, such as in Alzheimer’s disease, or in cases of “brain death” for patients on life support. The irreversible loss of memory and personality information in the brain is sometimes called the “information theoretic criterion” for death. We treat all cryonics patients on the presumption that they are not past this point.

Cryonics is strongly consistent with the pro-life views of Christianity and other religions that value the sanctity of human life. Noted Christian theologian John Warwick Montgomery has written favorably about cryonics (“Cryonics and Orthodoxy,” Christianity Today, 12, 816 (1968)), there have been positive sermons about cryonics, and even one of the earliest cryopreservations in 1969 was consecrated by a Catholic priest (Cryonics Reports, Vol. 4, No. 9-10, 1969). Whenever negative views have been expressed, they are almost always based on the mistaken belief that cryonics is attempting resurrection. Cryonics is a form of life support, not resurrection. We expect that cryonics, like surgical suspended animation and hypothermia rescue, will eventually be fully embraced by Christians as it becomes clear that cryonics is simply another medical technology. More information is available in the Religion section of the Alcor Library on this web site.

No. Cryonics, if it works, is a stepping-stone to a future where aging and now-terminal illnesses will be treatable in ways not possible today. Continuing medical progress will expand the human life span, eventually without natural limit. The same medical technologies necessary for reviving today’s cryonics patients will someday allow recovery from prolonged periods of cardiac arrest and severe traumatic injuries provided basic brain structure remains intact. Some people will also choose to modify their bodies to be stronger and more resistant to injury. But people will still be vulnerable to accidents, violence, and probably other problems we haven’t encountered yet or even imagined. The human body is a physical object, and physical objects can always be destroyed. Medicine can protect life, and future medicine will offer better protection, but medicine alone cannot produce immortality.

Some future medicine enthusiasts call indefinite life spans “immortality,” and call advocates of indefinite life spans “immortalists.” This is really a misnomer. As stated above, not having a fixed life span does not mean you are immortal.

Cryonics is a technology, not a religion. People of many different faiths choose cryonics. However when a person suffers from a serious illness, such as cancer, the quest for a cure becomes a central part of their life. Cryonics is equally important to people who choose it. Since religion is sometimes defined as “a sincere and meaningful belief” of importance in one’s life, it might be argued that cryonics fits this definition in times of need. For this reason, Alcor recommends that members sign a Religious Objection to Autopsy form to document their strong personal desire for cryopreservation.

While cryonics is not a religion, there is a small religion called Venturism for which cryonics is a central tenet. Most Alcor members are not Venturists, and Alcor does not endorse Venturism. Alcor is a purely technical organization, with no philosophical or religious agenda other than advocating the right to cryonics for people who choose it.