Bioethics Blogs

Freezing critique: privileged views and cryonics

Cryonics – the practice of freezing people directly after death in the hope that future medicine can resuscitate them – is controversial. However, British Columbia is the only jurisdiction with an explicit anti-cryonics law (banning advertising or sale of cryonics services), and a legal challenge is apparently being put together. The motivations for the law appear murky, but to some this is a rights issue. As Zoltan Istvan notes, “In a world where over 90 percent of the people hold religious views of the afterlife, cryonics could become a noteworthy global civil rights issue. ” Maybe the true deep problem for getting cryonics accepted is that it is a non-religious afterlife, and we tend to give undue privilege to religious strange views rather than secular strange views.

Ethically, it seems that disposing of bodies should largely follow the wishes of the deceased. This sometimes leads to legal clashes. Many jurisdictions clearly specify how human remains should be disposed, typically with a list of approved methods. In the past the cremation movement fought for the legal right of their preferred form of disposal, succeeding in most of the West where previously burial (on land or at sea) had been the sole approved form: changes do happen over time. Right now a freeze-drying methods for a low-carbon disposal is struggling to get approval. However, currently cryonics is handled as an anatomical donation and hence works differently legally.

There are also practical limitations to how far wishes can be followed. While some Westerners no doubt find the idea of Tibetan sky burial green and appealing, it would likely not be practical in many parts of the world.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.