According to this news item the Alcor Life Extension Foundation is taking legal action against the brother and sister of an Alcor member who “denied the foundation’s request for his body and didn’t notify them of their brother’s death until months after he was buried.” Although some may question the wisdom of pursuing this case in light of the current condition of this Alcor member, Alcor is honoring its contract with the member. As Reason points out in this excellent post about the issue:

I can only imagine that the lawsuit is being undertaken as a point of principle and for the purposes of education: don’t break contracts with Alcor or this will happen….Switching around a family member’s post-mortem arrangements is little different from bullying and controlling folk who are too old and frail to defend themselves. In the case of acting to prevent cryopreservation that was organized and chosen by the deceased, it becomes something like fractional murder: removing that person’s shot at whatever the unknown probability of future revival happens to be.

Spouses and relatives of an Alcor member should not feel confident that if they hide the death of an Alcor member long enough to make cryopreservation no longer meaningful or practical that the cryonics organization will just give up and refrain from pursuing the case. There have been too many cases where hostile, greedy, or indifferent relatives have frustrated the wishes of a person who wants to be cryopreserved. Cryonics organizations should not even give the semblance that this is something they let people get away with. Alcor is to be commended for fighting back and honoring this member’s wishes, even in the most miserable of circumstances.

This episode should be another important wake-up call for potential and existing members of cryonics organizations. There are various  ways situations such as these can be minimized and we should start thinking about them. Most of all, cryonics members should execute living wills that rule out scenarios where greedy relatives will benefit from the patient not being cryopreserved. Furthermore, cryonics members should execute a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care to ensure that the person who is authorized to make medical decisions on the cryonics member’s behalf has a strong commitment to honoring this person’s wish to be cryopreserved. This often will require giving this authority not to the person who is closest to you but to the person who  is most knowledgeable and respectful of  your cryonics arrangements (such as a long time friend with cryonics arrangements). Last, but not least, cryonics organizations should further expand their methods of determining high risk cases and improve communication with existing members. Although it is not possible, nor reasonable, to expect from cryonics organizations that they can avoid scenarios such as these in every single case, there is an urgent need to beef up membership tracking and response capabilities.

Cryonics organizations are in a delicate situation. We expect them to fight for each of their members without putting existing patients at risk. One solution that has been pursued in the past, and may have to be revived again, is to separate the service delivery aspect of cryonics from long term patient care. If such changes would allow more aggressive action on behalf of existing members with no, or decreased, risk for existing patients, such changes should be pursued.

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