Bioethics News

The complications and practicalities of cryopreservation

Someday we might get the technique right    

The publicity surrounding the cryopreservation of the body of a 14-year-old British JS after her death from cancer has prompted more commentary.

Heather Conway, of Queen’s University Belfast, ruminated on the legal complications arising from reanimation after decades or even centuries on ice.

From a legal perspective, the problems are obvious – starting with the fact that the person has already been declared legally dead. How would, how could, the law reinstate them? Could that person reclaim assets that they owned in life, but had passed to family members on death? Could inheritance laws be undone? And if the person’s spouse is still alive but has now remarried, would that marriage still be valid when the former partner returns from the dead? Even before this happens, what is the status of the corpse during its time in the deep freeze: does it have any legal rights? How long should a frozen corpse be stored, and would the individual’s family have the right to thaw or destroy the corpse without reanimating it?

And Alexandra Stolzing, a lecturer in regenerative medicine, at Loughborough University, in the UK, points out that it is still impossible to cryopreserve brains successfully. Besides she points out,

But there’s another huge hurdle for cryonics: to not only repair the damage incurred due to the freezing process but also to reverse the damage that led to death – and in such a manner that the individual resumes conscious existence.

From a purely technical point of view, this added complication might be worth avoiding.

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.