Who’s Leaving Whom?

It is well established that cryonics can be a formidable source of division within families. A classic example is the claim that a person who makes cryonics arrangements has reduced the amount of money available to spend on other goods and services—and will ultimately leave less money behind after passing away. We may think that such a perspective leaves little room for financial autonomy and tolerance in a family but experience confirms that many families operate exactly like that.

A related non-financial argument is that a person who makes cryonics arrangements is “selfish” by going it alone and leaving his family to die. Naturally, this argument can be turned on its head. A friend of mine once stated that, given the interest of her boyfriend in cryonics, the decision not to make cryonics arrangements herself would be akin to a decision to (eventually) abandon him. From the perspective of a cryonics advocate this argument can be further strengthened. If one believes that a cryonics patient is not dead, the decision not to make cryonics arrangements would be akin to walking away from someone who is critically ill (or in a coma).

In the examples so far we have faced a situation in which one person responds to the decision of another person. In many cases, however, the decision whether to make cryonics arrangements is the subject of joint deliberation. If we approach the subject from the perspective of not wanting to abandon a loved one there are a number of good reasons to decide in favor of a family making cryonics arrangements.

First of all, the decision not to make cryonics arrangements will lead to a predictable outcome: death (at least for the foreseeable future). And death is not a joint experience but the cessation of a family as a living entity. Why would a family voluntarily put a predictable expiration date on its existence?

Secondly, family members usually do not die at the same time. This not only applies to children but to couples as well. Couples think that the best they can do is to stick together “till death do us part.” In principle, cryonics can break with this tradition by placing one person in cryopreservation (and eventually both of them). While the relationship of the “survivor” to the cryonics patient is not identical to both being alive it is a whole lot better than throwing them in a hole or burning them because today’s medicine is not able to sustain them.

But what if we consider a whole family making cryonics arrangements and some will make it and others do not? This is indeed a heart wrenching scenario but these kinds of things happen in mainstream life, too. Survivors usually do not respond by taking out the whole family but mourn, remember, and pick up the pieces. A more dispassionate response is to say that some family members surviving is still preferable in that the surviving person’s situation is improved (compared to being clinically dead) without worsening the situation of the non-survivors (who are now non-existent). It is also important to emphasize here that survival is not an external event that “just happens.” We can do a lot to improve the probability that a whole family sticks together by executing the right paperwork and ensuring that younger family members will be able to take advantage of rejuvenation biotechnologies.

There are examples of individuals and families who made cryonics arrangements pretty much upon hearing about the idea. Most families take a little more time (or never get to it). One good piece of advice is to take out
life insurance for the whole family while rates are still affordable (especially for very young children). For most families there are very good general reasons to take out life insurance, such as providing financial stability for the surviving partners and children. So getting life insurance is a good idea while the conversation about the subject continues. It is not trivial to make last-minute cryonics arrangements, but it is impossible to get life insurance for a person who is dying or already dead and most people cannot pay for cryonics in cash.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, May, 2014