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 in Cryonics magazine, May, 2014

Technological Advances in Cryonics: What’s Next?

In the history of cryonics we can identify a number of major technological developments: the introduction of cryoprotectants to reduce ice formation, the use of mechanical chest compression devices to restore brain perfusion and accelerate cooling, comprehensive multi-modal medications protocols to mitigate warm ischemia and favor good cryoprotective perfusion, remote blood washout with an organ preservation solution to protect against cold ischemia, closed-circuit cryoprotective perfusion to reduce osmotic damage, and, of course, the introduction of vitrification agents to eliminate ice formation altogether.

What are the kinds of major technological developments that we can expect in cryonics in the foreseeable future? When we talk about technological progress we should distinguish among advances in medical science that simply require implementation in cryonics, advances in medical science that require various degrees of modification to be used in cryonics, and technological developments that are conceived and developed within cryonics. These distinctions are important to recognize because they can tell us whether new advances “simply” require acquiring these technologies or whether an ambitious research and development program needs to be launched to validate, develop, and introduce these technologies.

The three most important future technological advances that I can foresee are:

1. Liquid ventilation (cyclic cold lung lavage). Currently there are two basic modes of cooling in cryonics: (a) external cooling in an ice bath and (b) internal cooling with an organ preservation solution. Considering the harmful effects of warm ischemia on the structure of the brain and distribution of the vitrification agent, it is very important to introduce a rapid method of initial cooling that does not require surgery and can approximate the rates of internal cooling. The most potent candidate here is liquid ventilation in which a cold perfluorocarbon is pumped in and out of the lungs to accelerate cooling of the patient.

2. Intermediate temperature storage (ITS). As vitrification eliminates ice formation, fracturing remains the only mechanical form of injury in contemporary cryonics. The most obvious solution is to store patients below the glass transition temperature ((‑123°C for the M22 vitrification solution) but not so low as to induce fracturing. Functional neuro ITS units have been built and detailed designs for whole body ITS units have been developed. Concerns that have not been fully addressed yet include optimal storage temperature and cost. The most pressing practical question at this point is whether fracture-free storage may be possible at liquid nitrogen temperatures if ischemia-induced ice formation is eliminated and a proper cooling protocol is used. Also, would it possible to eliminate the need for ITS altogether if a cold gas is circulated through the patient’s circulatory system instead?

3. Opening the blood-brain barrier. It has been well established that under good conditions loading of the vitrification agent produces severe dehydration of the brain. While dehydration may not substantially alter brain structure, it is a problem in terms of maintaining viability of the brain and producing good electron micrographs. We now know of a number of agents that can modify the blood-brain barrier to allow cryoprotective perfusion without severe dehydration. Current concerns include whether such agents produce edema in other parts of the body, what the optimum protocol and dosage should be for humans, and whether the use of such agents reduces or favors ice formation in ischemic brains.

Other conceivable advantages that can improve cryonics include lower toxicity vitrification agents, drugs that can substantially reduce metabolism in the brain, and integration of brain imaging and cryoprotectant perfusion.

Originally published as a column in Cryonics magazine, April, 2014

Low Cost Cryonics

Over the years some cryonics proponents have expressed interest and support for offering an inexpensive form of cryonics. Before discussing what such a form of cryonics might entail I first would like to briefly address the question of whether the idea of low cost cryonics is a solution to a non-existent problem. After all, for low cost cryonics to make sense, there must be a substantial number of people being priced out of cryonics arrangements who would make arrangements if it were more affordable. For this to occur a person must not only not be able to afford Alcor’s services but also not be able to afford the Cryonics Institute’s either. As far as I am aware, this problem is mostly confined to people who are basically uninsurable due to a medical condition or advanced age, or who wish to cryopreserve someone else where funding is insufficient.

In some cases, however, people who have found themselves priced out of cryonics arrangements have been the beneficiary of fund raising campaigns within the cryonics community. While it may not be possible to provide funding for all such cases, this development does raise the question of how many people who had a strong public desire to be cryopreserved did not get their wishes honored. The major reason to advocate low cost cryonics is to bring the service within the reach of more people. Thus it is important to understand how many people are actually excluded from being cryopreserved due to financial challenges. If access to cryonics is mostly a non-issue one might argue that strategies to simply aim at more people making cryonics arrangements can be more effective than offering lower priced options.

There are roughly three areas where cost savings can be realized in cryonics: (a) long term care costs, (b) cryoprotection, and (c) standby and stabilization. It is not possible to do justice to all the potential cost savings in these areas so let me briefly discuss the major themes.

While it is reasonable to assume that some long term care costs can be reduced by reducing expenses associated with running a cryonics organization (staff, administrative costs, rent) the bulk of long-term care expenses arise from the need to keep patients in cryopreservation until resuscitation efforts will be possible. If there is one thing we have learned since the early days of cryonics it is that it is not wise to compromise on demanding pre-payment (life insurance or cash) or to use wildly optimistic growth assumptions for these funds. A pay-as-you-go system would not just subject many patients to premature thawing but also endanger the reputation of the cryonics field as a whole.

This mostly leaves cryoprotection and standby services as potential cost saving measures. Clearly, offering standby and stabilization without subsequent cryoprotection would be an incoherent approach because attempts to preserve the viability of the brain would be followed by straight freezing. Offering sophisticated cryoprotection procedures without standby is not particularly logical either because optimal cryopreservation requires rapid stabilization and cooling after clinical death. To really realize substantial cost savings a cryonics organization would need to exclude both standby and cryoprotection from its protocol and focus on the isolated brain. Is it responsible for a cryonics organization to offer such a form of low cost cryonics? It is hard to answer this question because it is difficult to predict how much damage is still compatible with inferring the original state of the brain. One research program, however, that could give us preliminary answers to such questions is reconstructive connectomics. We can model these low cost cryonics protocols and then see if we can recognize or reconstruct the original structure of the brain using either conventional electron microscopy or more recent 3D brain mapping technologies. If this project provides reasons for optimism there is a strong ethical argument for an organization to offer this service.

In short, the most credible realization of “low cost cryonics” would entail a financially conservative cryonics organization that offers secure, isolated-brain cryopreservation without standby and without the state-of-the-art
cryoprotection now done at Alcor with a trained team, though a less training-intensive, inexpensive, method of cryoprotection (immersion of the brain in cryoprotectant after chemical fixation) might still be possible.

Originally published as a column in Cryonics magazine, March, 2014

Forever Lost? The First Cryonics Brain Repair Paper

For more than a year now I have been trying to locate Jerome B. White’s paper “Viral Induced Repair of Damaged Neurons with Preservation of Long Term Information Content.” This paper is referred to in a number of books and articles, including Robert Ettinger’s Man into Superman (1972), Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation, and Mike Darwin’s biological repair proposal in his article The Anabolocyte (1977). Despite being recognized as the first presentation about repair of the brain of cryonics patients, I am not aware of any actual quotes or discussion of the paper, raising the question of how many authors who have referenced the paper have actually read it. The best I have been able to find is what amounts to the complete abstract of the paper in Robert Ettinger’s Man into Superman:

“An organic cell is a self repairing automaton, but if environmental interference exceeds a certain limit, damage will become total. Freezing can be used to halt progressive damage along with all metabolism, but means are required to restore or augment the cellular genetic control program, or enrich the environment to enhance repair ability. It has been proposed that appropriate genetic information be introduced by means of artificially constructed virus particles into a congenitally defective cell for remedy; similar means may be used for the more general case of repair. Progress has been made in many relevant areas. The repair program must use means such as protein synthesis and metabolic pathways to diagnose and repair any damage. Applied to brain neurons, this might destroy long term information content, which appears to be stored in molecular form, often suggested to be in a feedback cycle involving mRNA and protein. This information can be preserved by specifying that the repair program incorporate appropriate RNA tapes into itself upon entry and release them on termination of repair.”

Jerome B. White’s paper was presented at the Second National Cryonics Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1969. Unfortunately, only the proceedings of the First Annual Cryonics Conference in 1968 have been made available as a book. We can state with reasonable certainty, though, that White spoke on this topic at the second conference because Saul Kent briefly mentions his presentation in a review of the conference for Cryonics Reports, April-May 1969. Even more intriguing, the reference for this paper in Man into Superman includes “reprints available [emphasis added] from the Cryonics Society of Michigan,” which provides evidence that this presentation was either transcribed or an actual paper was prepared prior to or after the conference. Notwithstanding this encouraging point, I have not been able to locate this paper so far, despite asking individuals such as Michael Darwin, Michael Perry, Stephen Bridge, and Catherine Donaldson. Could it be possible that a paper was produced and distributed on a small scale but no copies of the paper have survived? This would be a tragedy, especially in light of the fact that it was the first proposal for a cell repair machine to resuscitate cryonics patients.

One person we cannot consult is Jerome Butler White (b. 1938) himself. The “good” news is that Mr. White has not passed away but, after a struggle with AIDS, was cryopreserved in 1994 by the American Cryonics Society (ACS) in collaboration with BioPreservation. (He is now stored at the Cryonics Institute.) Some of his other presentations include “The Technology of Cryonic Suspension,” Cryonics Conference and Scientific Congress, San Francisco, 1971, and “Heat Flow in the Human Patient,” Lake Tahoe Life Extension Festival, 1985. In the internet age it is hard to imagine that any information can be lost forever but we cannot rule out here that only a few individuals who have heard this presentation in 1969 are still alive today (some who have made cryonics arrangements) and that all physical copies may have been (irretrievably) lost. If that is the case, the text of this first paper on viral cell repair of cryonics patients will never be known and we can only speculate on its contents based on the abstract and any recollections of people who were present. One cannot think about this scenario and fail to reflect on the fragile nature of the personal memories stored in our own brains….

Note added by Mike Perry: Someone I know who is a prominent cryonicist thinks he has notes or text for the speech that was given by Jerry White at the 1969 Cryonics Conference. I have been waiting for the scanned document and will report when something comes to light.

Originally published as a column in Cryonics magazine, February, 2014

Postscript: Jerome White’s paper was (re)discovered by Art Quaife in September, 2014 and published in Cryonics Magazine, October, 2014. The paper is now available online here.

The Case for Brain Cryopreservation

Cryopreservation of just the head is as old as Alcor itself. In fact, some people identify Alcor with its “neuro-preservation” option. It is important, however, to recognize that the objective of preserving the head is really to preserve what is inside the head, i.e. the brain. While I am aware of (contrived) technical arguments that prefer head preservation over brain preservation for information-theoretical reasons, I suspect that no advocate of neuro-preservation is anxious about the prospect of having only his/her brain preserved in a pristine state.

This raises an important question – one that is not immediately evident to the general public. Why not just preserve the naked brain instead? I am aware of at least three major arguments against it and I think that these arguments are based on incomplete information or a lack of imagination.

Myth 1: The isolated brain is not a stable organ and will collapse upon itself in a jellylike state if it is removed from the skull.

Answer: In human cryopreservation the brain would only be extracted at low temperatures which provide a lot more stability to the brain. In addition, in a good case the brain will also be loaded with a cryoprotectant and exist in a dehydrated state, which will provide even more stability.

Myth 2: Removing the brain from the skull will damage the brain and will erase identity-critical information.

Answer: It is correct that morticians typically remove the brain with little regard for its ultrastructural integrity but there is no reason why a cryonics organization should engage in such traumatic brain removal. Safe brain removal protocols are technically possible and cryonics organizations have a strong incentive to develop and refine such techniques.

Myth 3: The skull is necessary to provide protection to the brain.

Answer: It is undeniable that the skull provides robust protection to the brain but from that it does not follow that a cryonics organization cannot design a long-term enclosure and maintenance method that provides strong protection of the naked brain, too.

I do not claim that brain preservation is equal in all respects to neuro-preservation. For example, extraction of the brain from the skull requires additional time after completion of cryoprotectant perfusion and during this time the brain will be exposed to high levels of cryoprotectant (strictly speaking, isolated brain perfusion is possible but this requires a very advanced surgical procedure). Keeping the brain temperature low and uniform during brain removal is also a challenge.

On the other hand, there are potential advantages as well. An isolated brain can be placed in the cryoprotectant to allow diffusion of the vitrification agent prior to cryogenic cooldown to compensate for any ischemia-induced cortical perfusion impairment. In fact, if perfusion is no longer an option, immersion of the (fixed) brain in cryoprotectant is the only means to mitigate ice formation during cryostasis. Another advantage is a decrease in long-term care costs (at least 50%), which allows for lower cryopreservation minimums.

But the most important advantage of brain preservation is that public perception and negative PR would be substantially lower than that with neuro-preservation. Even if the procedure were a little riskier (technically speaking) one could still argue that it is safer in general because images of cryopreserved brains do not risk the kind of visceral response that neuro-preservation triggers.

I cannot do justice to all the technical, logistical, and financial issues associated with brain-only cryopreservation here but the topic requires more study for the reason alone that cryonics organizations occasionally receive fixed brains, or patients with long ischemic times, for whom immersion cryoprotection could be superior to straight freezing. Brain cryopreservation does not exist as an option yet, but it has been the reality for a number of patients.

Originally published as a column in Cryonics magazine, January, 2014

Multiple Sclerosis and Human Enhancement

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that raises a lot of interesting questions for people interested in biogerontology, human enhancement, and even cryonics. It raises questions about immunosenescence and draws attention to possible immune improvements for biological human enhancement. Biotechnologies to induce myelin repair may even be useful for the repair of cryopreserved brains. Before I discuss multiple sclerosis from these perspectives, let us take a closer look at this medical condition.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory autoimmune disorder of the central nervous system that results in axonal degeneration in the brain and spinal cord. In simple terms, multiple sclerosis is a disease wherein the body’s immune system attacks and damages the myelin sheath, the fatty tissue that surrounds axons in the central nervous system. The myelin sheath is important because it facilitates the conduction of electrical signals along neural pathways. Like electrical wires, neuronal axons require insulation to ensure that they are able to transmit a signal accurately and at high speeds. It is these millions of nerves that carry messages from the brain to other parts of the body and vice versa.

More specifically, MS involves the loss of oligodendrocytes, the cells responsible for creating and maintaining the myelin sheath. This results in a thinning or complete loss of myelin (i.e., demyelination) and, as the disease advances, the breakdown of the axons of neurons. A repair process, called remyelination, takes place in early phases of the disease, but the oligodendrocytes are unable to completely rebuild the cell’s myelin sheath. Repeated attacks lead to successively less effective remyelinations, until a scar-like plaque is built up around the damaged axons.

The name multiple sclerosis refers to the scars (sclerae—better known as plaques or lesions) that form in the nervous system. These scars most commonly affect the white matter in the optic nerve, brain stem, basal ganglia, and spinal cord or white matter tracts close to the lateral ventricles of the brain. The peripheral nervous system is rarely involved. These lesions are the origin of the symptoms during an MS “attack.”

In addition to immune-mediated loss of myelin, which is thought to be carried out by T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, and macrophages, another characteristic feature of MS is inflammation caused by a class of white blood cells called T cells, a kind of lymphocyte that plays an important role in the body’s defenses. In MS, T cells enter the brain via disruptions in the blood-brain barrier. The T cells recognize myelin as foreign and attack it, which is why these cells are also called “autoreactive lymphocytes.”

The attack of myelin starts inflammatory processes which trigger other immune cells and the release of soluble factors like cytokines and antibodies. Further breakdown of the blood–brain barrier in turn causes a number of other damaging effects such as swelling, activation of macrophages, and more activation of cytokines and other destructive proteins. These inflammatory factors could lead to or enhance the loss of myelin, or they may cause the axon to break down completely.

Because multiple sclerosis is not selective for specific neurons, and can progress through the brain and spinal cord at random, each patient’s symptoms may vary considerably. When a patient experiences an “attack” of increased disease activity, the impairment of neuronal communication can manifest as a broad spectrum of symptoms affecting sensory processing, locomotion, and cognition.

Some of the most common symptoms include: numbness and/or tingling of the limbs, like pins and needles; extreme and constant fatigue; slurring or stuttering; dragging of feet; vision problems, especially blurred vision; loss of coordination; inability to walk without veering and bumping into things; weakness; tremors; pain, especially in the legs; dizziness; and insomnia. There are many other symptoms, as well, such as loss of bowel or bladder control, the inability to process thoughts (which leads to confusion), and passing out. Some MS patients lose their vision and many lose their ability to walk. The symptoms are not necessarily the same for all patients and, in fact, an individual MS patient does not always have the same symptoms from day to day or even from minute to minute.

One of the most prevalent symptoms of MS is extreme and chronic fatigue. Assessment of fatigue in MS is difficult because it may be multifactorial, caused by immunologic abnormalities as well as other conditions that contribute to fatigue such as depression and disordered sleep (Braley and Chervin, 2010). Pharmacologic treatments such as amantadine and modafinil have shown favorable results for subjective measures of fatigue. Both drugs are well tolerated and have a mild side-effect profile (Life Extension Foundation, 2013).

It is estimated that multiple sclerosis affects approximately 85 out of every 100,000 people (Apatoff, 2002). The number of known patients is about 400,000 in the United States and about 2.5 million worldwide (Braley & Chervin, 2010). In recent years, there has been an increase of identified multiple sclerosis patients with about 50 percent more women reporting the disease. Indeed, between two and three times as many women have MS than men. Most patients are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 but MS can strike at any age (National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2013).

Incidence of multiple sclerosis varies by geographic region and certain demographic groups (Apatoff, 2002; Midgard, 2001). There is evidence that worldwide distribution of MS may be linked to latitude (Midgard, 2001). In the U.S., for instance, there is a lower rate of MS in the South than in other regions (Apatoff, 2002). Data regarding race shows 54 percent of MS patients are white, 25 percent are black and 19 percent are classified as other (Apatoff, 2002).

There are four disease courses identified in MS:

Relapsing-Remitting: Patients have clearly defined acute attacks or flare-ups that are referred to as relapses. During the relapse, the patient experiences worsening of neurologic function—the body or mind will not function properly. The relapse is followed by either partial or total recovery, called remissions, when symptoms are alleviated. About 85 percent of MS patients fall into this category (National Multiple
Sclerosis Society, 2013).

Primary-Progressive: The disease slowly and consistently gets worse with no relapses or remissions. Progression of the disease occurs over time and the patient may experience temporary slight improvements of functioning. About 10 percent of MS patients fall into this category (National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2013).

Secondary-Progressive: Patient appears to have relapsing-remitting MS, but after time the disease becomes steadily worse. There may or may not be plateaus, flareups, or remissions. About half the people originally diagnosed with relapsing remitting will move into this category within 10 years (National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2013).

Progressive-Relapsing: Quick disease progression with few, if any, remissions. About 5 percent of MS patients fall into this category at diagnosis (National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2003).

The cause(s) of multiple sclerosis remain unknown although research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of the disease (National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2013; Compston and Coles, 2002). The current prevailing theory is that MS is a complex multifactorial disease based on a genetic susceptibility but requiring an environmental trigger, and which causes tissue damage through inflammatory/ immune mechanisms. Widely varying environmental factors have been found to be associated with the disease, ranging from infectious agents to Vitamin D deficiency and smoking. The debate these days revolves primarily around whether immune pathogenesis is primary, or acts secondarily to some other trigger (Braley & Chervin, 2010).

Risk factors for multiple sclerosis include genetics and family history, though it is believed that up to 75% of MS must be attributable to non-genetic or environmental factors. Infection is one of the more widely suspected non-genetic risk factors. A commonly held theory is that viruses involved in the development of autoimmune diseases could mimic the proteins found on nerves, making those nerves a target for antibodies. The potential roles of several viruses have been investigated including herpes simplex virus (HSV), rubella, measles, mumps, and Epstein Barr virus (EBV). The strongest correlation between a virus and MS exists with EBV—virtually 100% of patients who have MS are seropositive for EBV (the rate in the general public is about 90%)— but potential causality remains strongly debated (Ludwin and Jacobson, 2011).

It is important to keep in mind that infectious agents such as viruses may, in fact, have nothing to do with causing MS. The association of a virus with MS is based on increased antibody response and may be epiphenomenal of a dysregulated global immune response. “Proving” causality will require consistent molecular findings as well as consistent results from well-controlled clinical trials of virus-specific antiviral therapies (as yet to be developed). In the end, any theory concerning causality in MS should also account for the strong association with other environmental factors such as Vitamin D deficiency and smoking. Indeed, a landmark study found that, compared to those with the highest levels of vitamin D, those with the lowest blood levels were 62% more likely to develop MS. Additionally, a literature review evaluating more than 3000 MS cases and 45,000 controls indicates that smoking increases the risk of developing MS by approximately 50% (Life Extension Foundation, 2013).

Recently, researchers have pinpointed a specific toxin they believe may be responsible for the onset of MS. Epsilon toxin—a byproduct of the bacterium Clostridium perfringens—is able to permeate the blood brain barrier and has been demonstrated to kill oligodendrocytes and meningeal cells. Loss of oligodendrocytes and meningeal inflammation are both part of the MS disease process, and may be triggered by exposure to epsilon toxin.

The fact that females are more susceptible to inflammatory autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, points to the potential role of hormones in the etiology of multiple sclerosis. Interestingly, the course of disease is affected by the fluctuation of steroid hormones during the female menstrual cycle and female MS patients generally experience clinical improvements during pregnancy (Life Extension Foundation, 2013). Additionally, pregnancy appears to be protective against the development of MS. A study in 2012 demonstrated that women who have been pregnant two or more times had a significantly reduced risk of developing MS, while women who have had five or more pregnancies had one-twentieth the risk of developing MS compared to women who were never pregnant. (The increase in MS prevalence over the last few decades could reflect the fact that women are having fewer children.) A growing body of evidence supports the therapeutic potential of hormones (both testosterone and estrogens) in animal models of multiple sclerosis, but more research is needed to understand the pathways and mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of sex hormones on MS pathology (Gold and Voskuhl, 2009).

No single test gives a definitive diagnosis for MS, and variable symptoms and disease course make early diagnosis a challenge. Most diagnoses are presumptive and are based on the clinical symptoms seen in an acute attack. Supporting evidence of these presumptions is then sought, usually from a combination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, testing the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for antibodies, measuring the
efficiency of nerve impulse conduction, and monitoring symptoms over time.

As there is still much work to be done in understanding the nature of multiple sclerosis, a cure has yet to be discovered. Conventional medical treatment typically focuses on strategies to treat acute attacks, to slow the progression of the disease, and to treat symptoms. Corticosteriods such as methylprednisolone are the first line of defense against acute MS attacks and are administered in high doses to suppress the immune system and decrease the production of proinflammatory factors. Plasma exchange is also used to physically remove antibodies and proinflammatory factors from the blood.

The use of beta interferons is a longstanding MS treatment strategy, originally envisioned as an antiviral compound. Beta interferons reduce inflammation and slow disease progression, but the mechanism of action is poorly understood. Other immunosuppressant drugs such as Mitoxantrone and Fingolimod also slow disease progression, but are not used as first-line treatments due to their severe side effects. More recently, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have noted that an antioxidant called MitoQ has been shown to significantly reverse symptoms in a mouse model of MS (Mao, Manczak, Shirendeb, and Reddy (2013).

Besides pharmacological treatments, MS patients may benefit from therapies (such as physical and speech therapy) and from an optimized nutritional protocol. Supplementation with Vitamin D, Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, Vitamin E, lipoic acid, Vitamin b12, and Coenzyme Q10 appear to be of particular potential benefit (Life Extension Foundation, 2013). Until a definitive cause for MS can be defined and a cure developed, such strategies, including hormone therapy, offer possible ways to improve quality of life over the course of disease progression.

Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, there does not appear to be a Mendelian variant of MS that will invariably produce the disease in people who have the gene. A somewhat puzzling variable is that MS predominantly tends to occur between the ages of 20 and 50. This appears to exclude approaching MS as a form of immunosenescence. After all, if MS would be a function of the aging immune system, we would see progressively more cases of MS as people get older (or in AIDS patients), ultimately involving many very old people. More likely, MS is a non age-related form of dysfunction of the immune system that is triggered by environmental factors (such as a viral infection). While many discussions about the role of viruses in debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s and MS still suffer from an incomplete understanding of cause and effect, it seems reasonable to conclude that enhancement of the human immune system can greatly reduce disease and improve the quality of life, even in healthy humans.

One potential treatment for MS is to induce remyelination (or inhibit processes that interfere with efficient remyelination). Stem cells can be administered to produce oligodendrocyte precursor cells to produce the oligodendrocyte glial cells that are responsible for remyelination of axons. While the myelin sheaths of these remyelated axons are not as thick as the myelin sheaths that are formed during development, remyelination can improve conduction velocity and prevent the destruction of axons. While the dominant repair strategies envisioned for cryonics involve molecular nanotechnologies that can build any biochemical structures that physical law permits, it is encouraging to know that specific stem cell therapies will be available to repair and restore myelin function in cryonics patients as damage to myelin should be expected as a result of (prolonged) ischemia and cryoprotectant toxicity.

An interesting possibility is that remyelination therapies may also be used for human enhancement if these therapies can be tweaked to improve conduction velocity in humans or to induce certain desirable physiological responses by varying the composition and strength of the myelin sheath in various parts of the central nervous system.


Apatoff, Brian R. (2002). MS on the rise in the US. Neurology Alert 20(7), 55(2).

Braley, Tiffany J., Chervin, Ronald D. (2010). Fatigue in Multiple Sclerosis: Mechanisms, evaluation, and treatment. Sleep 33(8), 1061-1067.

Compston, Alastair, and Coles, Alasdair (2002). The Lancet 359(9313), 1221.

Gold, Stefan M., and Voskuhl, Rhonda R. (2009). Estrogen and testosterone therapies in multiple sclerosis. Progress in Brain Research 175: 239-251.

Life Extension Foundation (2013). Multiple Sclerosis, in: Disease Prevention and Treatment, 5th edition, 947-956.

Ludwin, SK, and Jacobson, S. (2011). Epstein- Barr Virus and MS: Causality or association? The International MS Journal 17.2: 39-43.

Mao, Peizhong, Manczak, Maria, Shirendeb, Ulziibat P., and Reddy, P. Hemachandra (2013). MitoQ, a mitochondira-targeted antioxidant, delays disease progression and alleviates pathogenesis in an experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis mouse model of multiple sclerosis. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta Molecular Basis of Disease 1832(12): 2322- 2331.

Midgard, R. (2001). Epidemiology of multiple sclerosis: an overview. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 71(3), 422.

Originally published as an article (in the Cooler Minds Prevail series) in Cryonics magazine, February, 2014

Who Decides What We Can Do With Our Body (and Brain)?

Statement on the High Court ruling concerning 14 year-old cancer victim’s right to cryonics

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Our hearts go out to the young British woman whose battle with cancer ended sadly earlier this month at age 14, as well as to her parents as they cope with this very difficult time. And we commend the British High Court Judge for his important ruling enabling the girl to obtain her wish to be cryogenically preserved. While we have no comment on the specifics of this case, and do not ourselves offer services of this nature, we hope we can shed some light on the project of experimental medical biostasis / cryonics more generally.

Over the past decade, scientists have made significant advances in low-temperature biology, and scientists developing molecular machines will receive this year’s Nobel Prize on December 10. Many, including scientists at places like Cambridge, Oxford, MIT, NASA and Harvard, now openly support cryonics as a legitimate scientific endeavor. Of course there is no guarantee that any cryonics patients will be revived in the future, but as discussed by four tenured professors in this recent MIT Technology Review piece, the best evidence suggests that cryonics deserves open-minded consideration.

Coordinator of the UK Cryonics and Cryopreservation Research Network, Dr João Pedro de Magalhães, when asked for his thoughts, observed that “no matter the probability you assign to the procedure, we think it’s important to give people the choice, just as we give dying patients the opportunity to try other experimental medical therapies to save their lives”.

Cryonics is a similar experimental treatment, albeit one with different legal and ethical implications, and whose probability of success is unknown. Many parts of the world are now taking progressive stances towards the idea of death with dignity. It seems incongruous with these beliefs to stigmatize a procedure for what is at worst an over-optimistic belief about the state of the future.

Despite the many intermediate successes in low-temperature biology over the past few decades, no cryonics organization can currently revive a patient. Nobody has claimed otherwise, and arguments based on this premise are missing the point.

Cryonicists look at how medicine has progressed over the past hundred years, at the millions of people whose lives would have been cut short if not for advances in technology, and it fills them with hope about what might be possible for the future. The goal of cryonics is not to be able to revive someone with contemporary technology, rather the goal is to preserve a person and her brain well enough that future technologies may be able to (repair and) revive the person. One can think of this as transporting the body forward through time or as medical time travel. This depends on technologies that will be developed in the next decades or centuries, not on the world’s capabilities today. All the major cryonics organizations in the western world are non-profits with the goal of surviving for centuries.

As Aschwin de Wolf, President of The Institute for Evidence-Based Cryonics, explained, “Cryonics is based on the premise that the neuro-anatomical basis of identity is more robust than folk wisdom suggests, and we envision future technologies that can infer the healthy state of the brain from the injured state – and even repair any damage that occurs during the cryopreservation process itself. As such, cryonics is not an act of faith, but an act of reason.”

We will cure cancer one day, and it is reasonable for this girl, born too early through no fault of her own, to choose for herself the best chance to make it to that world where more is possible.

Contact / interviews:

Dr João Pedro de Magalhães

Coordinator, UK Cryonics and Cryopreservation Research Network

+44 151 7954517 / aging@liverpool.ac.uk


Aschwin de Wolf

President, Institute for Evidence-Based Cryonics



Appendix of key supporting materials

  • “The patient should participate responsibly in the care, including giving informed consent or refusal to care as the case might be…The patient’s right is based on the philosophical concept of respect for autonomy, the common-law right of self-determinationAmerican College of Physicians Ethics Manual, 2016

Bitcoin and Cryonics

In this article, I want to introduce you to Bitcoin, a topic that fascinates me almost as much as cryonics. Many Cryonics readers will have already heard of Bitcoin (certainly my first introductions to it were by members of the cryonics community), but in order to go on and talk about cryonics-specific uses for Bitcoin, I think it is important to give the actual technology a proper introduction, as well as a brief history of its creation and development. But perhaps most importantly, cryonicists have had important involvement in Bitcoin’s inception and spread, and through the backward-looking lens of history, I believe this is a connection the cryonics community will be proud of. [At this point, I think it’s important to make the following disclaimer: I own bitcoins, and am very optimistic about their future, both in value, and their potential as a highly positive disruption in the global financial system.]

What is Bitcoin?[1]

A “peer-to-peer electronic cash system” is what Bitcoin’s creator, Satoshi Nakamoto called his idea in its initial design paper. The more wieldy name for Bitcoin and the many, lesser-known “altcoins” that have been developed in Bitcoin’s wake, is cryptocurrency, the prefix crypto—referring to the fundamental role cryptography plays in its operation. Bitcoin is sometimes called a “virtual currency,” and while this is certainly an easier way of communicating the general idea to the uninitiated, it does ignore what differentiates Bitcoin from other, equally “virtual” currencies in online games, such as World of Warcraft “gold” that has acquired real-world value (to the game’s players, at least) and is traded for regular currency. Online merchants such as Amazon have also developed virtual currencies specific to their brands, as the next paradigm of prepaid gift cards and loyalty rewards programs. But all these other sorts of virtual currencies are ultimately controlled by a single entity— not unlike governments’ control over their local currencies—whereas Bitcoin operates by consensus over a distributed peer-to-peer network. So bitcoins, World of Warcraft gold, and Amazon Coins are really apples, oranges, and bananas.

Others reject the “currency” characterization entirely, instead conceiving of Bitcoin as a “digital commodity.” But to me, that simply begs the question of what features of the bitcoins themselves has commodified them? If it is their usefulness as a means of transferring value, are they not a currency first, and a commodity second? There is something of a chicken-and-egg aspect to that debate, so I will leave it to the economists and philosophers. Personally, I think it is more useful to define Bitcoin descriptively, in which case Bitcoin is a globally distributed ledger of transactions of a unit called “a bitcoin.” A bitcoin has whatever value (in other currencies, or goods) that those who concur in Bitcoin’s utility agree it has— voting with their traditional currencies by purchasing bitcoins with them. And so far, the global market’s valuation of Bitcoin has increased by at least six orders of magnitude since it was released into the world in early 2009.

Now, the distributed ledger which forms the backbone of the Bitcoin network actually has a name of its own— the “blockchain”—so called because transactions between addresses of the network are recorded in the ledger in sequential “blocks” of data one megabyte in size. The transactions are collected into these blocks, verified for validity, and added to the blockchain by specialized users of the network, who must first “solve” the block by running it through a computationally intensive process called “hashing” until a particular result is reached, at which point that block is added to the chain and that user is rewarded with new bitcoins, along with any of the (optional) transaction fees included with the transactions in that block. [2] Because doing this work that keeps the network functioning is incentivized with the block reward, this whole process is referred to as “mining” bitcoins. The block reward halves approximately every four years, and the number of bitcoins will never exceed 21 million, though they can be subdivided further by adding additional decimal places as necessary.

Bitcoins reside at bitcoin addresses, which are rather unsexy strings of letters and numbers, like 14cD6PwopFAoeyPwtGAsSiMwJcLxS9ePC. However, these addresses can be represented as QR codes like the one to the left, which are a little more sender-friendly. Bitcoin is often referred to as an “anonymous” currency, but this really isn’t true. Being a public ledger, it is only an anonymous system for a particular user if there is no way of tying their real-world identity to the transaction(s) that they wish to be anonymous. However, in contrast with IP addresses on the internet, one can have as many bitcoin addresses as one likes (and the private keys entitling them to transact with the bitcoins at those addresses), without ever paying for them or asking for someone’s permission to have one. This is because the bitcoin addresses and associated private keys are all generated algorithmically, and the algorithm used to define them provides for many more than enough for everyone on the planet (approximately 2×10^38 per capita, at present). Thus, pseudonymity can be approximated by never using the same address twice, and this behavior is built into most Bitcoin wallet software by default.

A Very Abridged History of Bitcoin

Nakamoto’s original design paper was posted to Perry E. Metzger’s cryptography mailing list in late 2008. [3] The “genesis block” of the chain, containing the first 50 bitcoins, was brought into existence by Nakamoto in January of 2009, with the first version of the Bitcoin client released a week thereafter. Interest in Nakamoto’s creation was sufficient to attract other developers to refine the protocol and the client, and design new clients—and of course mine for bitcoins, which at the time could be done with ordinary CPUs. In those very early days, it was not easy to pin any particular value on bitcoins themselves, but a now famous $25 pizza was ordered by one Bitcoin user at the request of another, in exchange for Ƀ10,000 in May of 2010. (At today’s exchange rate, that pizza would now be worth nearly $1.3 million.) Two months later one bitcoin surpassed $0.01 in value, and later still in 2010, after the first major bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox opened its virtual doors, $0.10. Bitcoin reached parity with the dollar in early 2011, hit $10 on June 2 of that year, and then “bubbled” up to over $30 within the next six days, before “popping” back to $10 and retreating all the way back down to $2 over the next six months. But by the second half of 2012, Bitcoin was back over $10, and jumped another order of magnitude to $100 during the first half of this year, shooting over $200 briefly in April before resettling to a (slightly) less volatile hover pattern around $100 over the months following. This more recent “bubble” received significantly more mainstream media attention, despite having a significantly more stable outcome than the 2011 bubble.

Personally, I prefer the characterization of these sudden upward price movements followed by downward corrections before resuming the long-term upward trend, as “hypermonetization” [4] events, as opposed to bubbles. Unlike tulips (the famous economic bubble example), Bitcoin has far clearer fundamentals supporting its increasing valuation by the global market. The more people that are exposed to the network and start using it, the bigger it gets, making it less vulnerable to attack, more useful as a currency, and more secure as a store of value (there is some debate around this, particularly around a possible trend towards centralization of mining on account of the more specialized and expensive equipment now required, but I think the general idea holds true). Furthermore, while the service-layer infrastructure around Bitcoin it is still somewhat lacking—notably widespread, easy-to-use ways of turning traditional  currencies into bitcoins and back again [5] — the existing financial transactions paradigm simply cannot compete with Bitcoin when it comes to transmitting wealth across the world as cheaply as to someone standing immediately next to you. Even PayPal has had to take note, and Western Union, too. [6] In addition to becoming an accepted form of payment with more and more online merchants (and even some brickand-mortar ones) every day, bitcoin mining has become an industry in its own right, due to the ever increasing difficulty of the mining algorithm. Difficulty increases are a design feature of the protocol intended to secure it from a malicious entity simply amassing enough computing power to centralize control over the network, thereby destroying its primary fundamental value. Thus, the required hardware for anyone looking to derive profit from mining has graduated from regular old CPUs, to high-end GPUs, and now finally to chips specifically designed for the task (application-specific integrated circuits, or ASICs). Setting up and maintaining GPU “farms,” and now, more recently, developing and deploying ASICs has required significant investment, precipitating the arrival of “virtual” companies that raise capital through Bitcoin IPOs on virtual securities exchanges, sharing the profits back with the “virtual” shareholders. (This of course being a securities regulator’s nightmare, but we’ll leave that alone for now.)

Early Connections to Cryonics

By now, you are probably wondering how any of this relates to cryonics. Perhaps it would surprise you to know that one of Alcor’s long-time board members’ names is written right into the Bitcoin protocol? Indeed, without Ralph Merkle’s work in cryptography some decades prior, Bitcoin might not even exist—or at least not in its current form. Public key cryoptography, for which Merkle was inducted into the 2011 National Inventors Hall of Fame, is a core enabling technology of Bitcoin. A cryptographic data structure called a “Merkle tree” (and associated “Merkle root”) is an integral part of the bitcoin hashing algorithm, so our illustrious Mr. Merkle’s work is essentially stamped on every block in the blockchain. While Merkle’s website does not indicate a personal interest in bitcoins, it does include the following foreboding prediction:

“The likely development of quantum computers (QCs) in the next one or two decades would compromise all widely used publickey cryptosystems (PKCSs)… [I]t may already be too late to deploy a QCresistant PKCS standard throughout the world before quantum computers become available. […] The developers of a quantum computer are likely to keep its existence secret for some time, during which time they could freely forge signatures for any system that was not QC-resistant: signatures that most would find hard to dispute.”

That being said, the Bitcoin community is aware of the threat quantum computing could represent (a threat to which the traditional financial transactions insitutions, i.e. banks, credit card networks, etc, will be highly vulnerable as well), and already has ideas of how to upgrade the protocol’s security when necessary. [7] Regardless, Ralph Merkle’s contributions to cryptography have made possible a major leap forward in the very idea of what money can be.

But the early connection between Bitcoin and cryonics goes further. A man named Hal Finney was an early responder to Nakamoto’s initial posts to the cryptography mailing list, and ended up being the recipient of the very first bitcoin transaction, from Nakamoto himself in early 2009. Finney also identified a specific kind of double-spend attack possible against merchants who accepted payments without waiting for network confirmations of the transaction, which has been given the name the “Finney attack.” Finney was also a member of the Less Wrong online community (created by well-known cryonicist and Friendly AI researcher, Eliezer Yudkowsky), and later in 2009, Finney posted to Less Wrong that he had been diagnosed with ALS. [8] In the responses to Finney’s post, Yudkowsky asked him if he had cryonics arrangements in place, to which Finney replied that he had been an Alcor member for 20 years. Finney’s involvement on Bitcoin forums and Less Wrong did diminish over time, but after the 2013 price rise, Finney made a post on bitcointalk.org relating his early involvement in Bitcoin’s development, his diagnosis with ALS, and his continued work developing more secure Bitcoin wallet clients. [9]

The Mystery of Satoshi Naka

An interesting twist in the story of Bitcoin is that the true identity of its creator is not known. Satoshi Nakamoto’s writing style, and the timing of his daily activity/ inactivity cycles have led many to doubt that he was the 37-year old Japanese man he claimed to be, with some even suspecting that Nakamoto was a singular virtual identity masking a group effort. Having written the first Bitcoin client himself, Nakamoto’s coding has been described as “elegant in some ways and inelegant in others,” potentially indicating that Nakamoto was not a professional programmer, though not a complete amateur either.[10] Whoever he/she/they was or were, Nakamoto’s involvement in the project waned over the course of 2010, and the task of continuing to refine Bitcoin has become a collaborative effort clustered around one person who is paid to develop the protocol full-time.[11]

But in honour of Satoshi Nakamoto’s grand idea, the (current) smallest subunit of a bitcoin, Ƀ0.00000001, is called a satoshi. And boy-oh-boy, does Satoshi ever have a lot of satoshis! As one of the earliest dedicated users and miners, at a time when mining could be done with ordinary CPUs and the network was not nearly as distributed as today, Nakamoto amassed quite a hoard of bitcoins. However, since his disappearance in 2010, the lion’s share of the bitcoins traced back to the protocol’s creator (over a million of them) were never spent. [12] Depending on the real-world identity of the person or persons behind “Satoshi Nakamoto,” and the underlying motives behind creating Bitcoin and then retreating away right as it started attracting real attention to itself, maybe those coins will never be spent.

Legal Status of Bitcoins

Part of the reason Bitcoin is difficult for lawmakers and regulators to categorize is because it does not lend itself to analogy very well. Or perhaps it does this too well—that is to say Bitcoin can be meaningfully analogized to different and competing schemas. Fundamentally, as I discussed in the first part, Bitcoin is a ledger of transactions. But normally, a ledger of transactions refers to a unit which represents some physical thing, and even if that physical thing rarely actually changes hands in the vast majority of transactions of it, somewhere there is some form of property, in the legal sense, that the ledger is tracking. Even where this property is just a “right” to something else (think shares in a company), there’s usually some material thing (often money) at the end of the line.

Even bank notes and coins, the physical manifestations of traditional currency, are “referring” to something else—namely the respective territorial government’s acceptance of that currency for payment of taxes, etc., and its authority to insist that merchants within the territory accept the currency as “legal tender.” Sometimes the governments will have some kind of reserve of another valuable thing (like gold) in place to “back” the value of its currency, but in more recent times this has become less common, and a territory’s currency has value by government fiat. Bitcoin defies all this. There is nothing “backing” Bitcoin, only communal trust in the protocol itself, which is basically faith in cryptography and in the Bitcoin community’s collective will to see the project succeed. And so, Bitcoin defies or at least confuses the current legal conceptualization of what property is. Could it be said that a Bitcoin user has “rights” to particular bitcoins, even though they don’t actually exist anywhere other than on a ledger? Or does it make more sense to say they have exclusive rights to the address and private key that they have claimed for themselves—even though those were generated by a publicly available algorithm, with some real (but very, very, very small) chance that someone else could randomly generate the exact same ones, and be able to transact any bitcoins happening to be there..?

Other virtual currencies, like World of Warcraft “gold” and Amazon coins, while conceptualized as currency, derive their value, and any legal rights their users may have, from the contract agreed upon between issuer and user (however cursory that agreement may have been). Often, these agreements actually bar the user from trading the virtual currency to another user in exchange for traditional currency, and the issuer reserves the right to unilaterally change the contract on notice to the user. Nevertheless, the users of these currencies do have some legal rights, arising out of contract.

Bitcoin defies this too. There is no single issuer, and no one entity has the ability to change the Bitcoin protocol. The limit of the “powers” of those most closely involved with developing the protocol, is to release an update to the basic client, which is open source, and suggest that the update be adopted by the many users of the network—miners in particular. For major changes, all users must accept the update or risk a “hard fork” of the blockchain, with two parallel ledgers each purporting to be a true representation of the state of the network. Thus, it needs to already be a foregone conclusion that a large majority of the network will accept such major changes before it is even released, else doing so will undermine the project itself. In legal terms, we could perhaps conceive of the Bitcoin protocol as a multi-party, majority-guided, consensus-driven contract regarding the formulation of a ledger of transmissions of a unit that all the contractors accept have some value—value derived from the nature of the system thus described. But this “contract” is written in computer code, and is constantly self-executing (or to continue the metaphor, self-enforcing) in real time all the world over. And far from a simple contract of sale or services, or even a complex corporate transaction, the Bitcoin contract describes an entire economic system, not tied in any way to the geographic territories its users reside in, or, more importantly, the laws of those territories. Bitcoin is living law, created, sustained and refined by the supranational community of its users.

Now, with all that said, it is still completely within the purview of courts and lawmakers to “admit” bitcoins as a form of property. And while it is still early days, it appears that at least one court has done just that. In an early ruling in the prosecution of a rather notorious Ponzi scheme involving Bitcoins, a Texas District Court judge ruled that “Bitcoin is a currency or form of money,” and thus the defendant’s claim that Bitcoin was not money and therefore his offerings were not securities within the jurisdiction of the SEC was baseless.[13] Also, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), the anti-money laundering enforcement agency of the U.S. Treasury has stated that both bitcoin exchanges as well as miners that exchange their newly-mined bitcoins for money are money transmitters subject to state licensing requirements—though how and why this would be enforced against the latter group is unclear to say the least.[14]

Meanwhile, up north, the Canada Revenue Agency has indicated that the rules which apply to bartering apply to trades involving bitcoin, which means that purchases of goods, services, or other currencies with bitcoins will result in taxable capital gains (or losses) if the value of the bitcoins (in Canadian dollars) has increased or decreased since they were acquired.[15] And, in contrast with the U.S., Canada’s Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (“FINTRAC”; agency equivalent to FinCEN) has informed bitcoin exchanges that they are not subject to regulation as money services businesses under the applicable anti-money laundering laws (for the time being, at least).[16]

Other concerns regarding the technology

Aside from uncertain, sometimes conflicting legal classification and treatment, other concerns have been raised regarding the use of bitcoins in illegal drug and weapons trade, and for money laundering by criminals and terrorists. However, these arguments flounder somewhat when faced with the simple fact that as a public ledger, it is technically easier to trace dirty bitcoins than it is to trace dirty cash. That said, bitcoin mixing (read: laundering) services have sprung up for bitcoins too. It is worth noting here that the Silk Road, one of the largest marketplaces for all things illegal, operating on the near-anonymous Tor network and using bitcoin as its primary trade currency, was recently shut down by the U.S. government—its alleged operator arrested on drug charges and conspiracy to murder.[17]

Others point to the fact that it is possible to use the Bitcoin protocol to encode other kinds of content into the blockchain— including illegal content, like links to child pornography—immortalizing it there in the computers of every user of the network (whether they have the means or the desire to decode the content or not). Of course, this is not a new argument—it has been leveled against the Internet itself. And like the Internet, the Bitcoin protocol cannot be held responsible for the moral acts of its users, good or bad. Law enforcement agencies will simply adapt, as they already are doing.

The above is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the legal status of Bitcoin or of any particular uses for the technology, it is just meant to give you an idea. Generally speaking, owning and using bitcoins seems to be legal, but doing things with Bitcoin that would be illegal to do with money or with the Internet, remain illegal. It’s as simple as that.

Cryonics-specific uses for bitcoins

(1) Asset preservation
It has been suggested that since bitcoins appear to store value (in a somewhat erratic, volatile fashion, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms), they could provide an alternate means to those currently employed by cryonicists seeking to maintain possession of their accumulated wealth during their period of cryopreservation (namely, asset preservation trusts). And in fact, since Bitcoin is designed to be a deflationary currency[18], assuming that it survives and is adopted widely, wealth stored as bitcoins will likely be worth much more in the future than it is now. This might be attractive to cryonicists for whom volatility on shorter timescales is not terribly concerning.

So how could cryonicists accomplish this? The all-important piece of information that gives a particular person the ability to send bitcoins stored at a particular address is the private key for that address. Trouble is, no matter how that private key is stored, whether digitally on a computer owned by the cryonicist, or on a secure cloud server controlled by the cryonicist under some agreement entered into with the cloud server provider, or even written down on a simple piece of paper (the so-called “paper wallet”), none of these records of the private key will escape the effects of estate law if they remain the cryonicist’s property upon legal death. Thus the information required to transmit the cryonicist’s bitcoins would end up in the hands of beneficiaries—beneficiaries who today might not even know what to do with them! This could result in either the loss of the bitcoins to the cryonicist, or the permanent loss of the bitcoins altogether, since if the private key is outright lost, the bitcoins stored at that address are no longer accessible.

The only way to avoid this would be to use essentially the same mechanism currently used for cryonics asset preservation, i.e. giving the medium with the private key on it to a trustee to hold for the cryonicist until they are successfully resuscitated. But then we haven’t actually come up with a new solution to the problem we set out to solve, because this trust will have to be drafted in more or less the same way as other cryonics asset preservation trusts, such as the Alcor Model Trust, with an interim beneficiary standing in for the cryonicist while they are not a legal person. And there is nothing wrong with that in principle, but since bitcoins are informational in nature, there might be another way of preserving them for later use, without using trust law mechanics—perhaps as a way of hedging oneself against the possible failure of the trust for one reason or another.

This alternate method relies on the fact that, as information, bitcoin private keys can be memorized. However, private keys are even longer than bitcoin addresses themselves, and thus not the easiest things to memorize. So, some clever people have devised a way of generating private keys by hashing series of words that are much easier for the average human being to remember, like “correct horse battery staple.”[19] These approaches to securing bitcoins are referred to as brain wallets. Fair warning, though: short, simple combinations of ordinary words are vulnerable to “dictionary attacks.” For similar reasons, a beloved section of poetry, in unaltered form, is not a wise choice of phrase to generate a private key either. As with ordinary passwords, addition of numbers, special characters, and variations of case are advisable.

In their brain wallet, the cryonicist stores some of their wealth in bitcoins using a secret passphrase known only to them. Upon resuscitation, they generate the private key from the passphrase, and they have everything they need to transact with the bitcoins as they desire. Conceivably, brain wallets could even be used to incentivize resuscitation, by telling your cryonics provider about the bitcoins and promising them some portion of them upon your return.[20] Of course, that idea leads to a potential pitfall of storing the key to your wealth in your brain, as it makes your brain potentially quite valuable—that is, valuable to people other than yourself and those that care about you for you. If it became common knowledge that cryonicists were using this as a strategy for asset preservation, mightn’t this make cryonics facilities attractive to the future’s version of tomb-raiders, lusting after the riches locked away in cryopreserved brains? The best case scenario there would be that the technology exists to somehow “read” the private key from a brain while still cryopreserved. A worse scenario would be that the cryonicist, having been abducted from their long-term care provider, is later resuscitated under rather different circumstances than they intended—as hostages of their resuscitators, and only of continued value to them until they give up the goods, as it were. I will say however that both those scenarios sound more like premises for science fiction stories than likely futures.

Another, less fantastical problem with using brain wallets for asset preservation is the possibility that part of the cryonicist’s brain that is involved in storing the private key—or more likely the passphrase used to generate it—is damaged during cryopreservation in a way that is not reparable. However, without delving too far into the subject, I wonder if there are mnemonic strategies that would reduce the likelihood of this undesirable outcome. Even something as simple as ritualized, periodic recall of the passphrase to continually reactivate the memory and strengthen it might result in a memory that has sufficient physical redundancy in the brain to resist some amount of damage.

Lastly, there is always the chance that during the patient’s cryopreservation, Bitcoin fails for some reason, either because some major flaw in the protocol is discovered and exploited, or a successor technology comes along, and the value and wealth currently stored in Bitcoin drains out of it into the successor. That said, Bitcoin still has a strong first mover advantage, and as a protocol, any deficiencies identified through experimentation with the numerous “altcoins” that exist can simply be implemented into Bitcoin, which has considerable network effect favouring its competitive survival. However, due to this and the aforementioned risks, it would be seriously inadvisable to make storing wealth in Bitcoin brain wallets one’s only asset preservation strategy.

(2) Collection of donations, and payments for services
Case in point: I created a Bitcoin address for the Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics just before the symposium on Resuscitation of Cryonics Patients in May, and merely because we accepted bitcoins, someone in the audience, with whom we had no prior relationship, made a donation. And all he had to do was scan the QR code of IEBC’s public address that was on my phone.

In addition to soliciting donations this way, cryonics service providers could also accept member dues and lump-sum prepayments via Bitcoin. Compared with the transaction fees charged by credit card companies and PayPal, which are generally a percentage of the value of the transaction itself, the default suggested transaction fee is only 0.0001, or at today’s exchange rate a little over one cent[21]. And historically, as the price of bitcoins has increased, the default transaction fee has been reduced, since transaction fees only need to be a small component of the miners’ incentive while the block reward is still quite high. Anyway, this is much cheaper than the competition, and also much faster, as Bitcoin transactions “settle” securely in about an hour, and realistically can be relied on even sooner when dealing with relatively small transactions, as the risk of a doublespend attempt is very low there due to the cost of the computing power required to successfully pull it off.

However, for organizations worried about the extra level of accounting complexity created by accepting payments in a currency with a value that fluctuates relative to their home currency, there is an alternative. Numerous payment companies are springing up in the Bitcoin service layer that aim to make accepting bitcoins easier on companies, Coinbase being a wellfunded frontrunner that gives merchants the option to have incoming bitcoin transactions converted immediately into USD at the current exchange rate, plus a 1% service fee (which is still significantly cheaper than credit cards and PayPal).[22]

Other cryonics-relevant uses

The surface has only just been scratched with respect to what the Bitcoin protocol is capable of. Blockchain technology is an incredibly powerful tool, that has already been adapted for use as a cryptographically secure, peer-to-peer messaging system[23], as well as a decentralized domain name system[24]. Automated contracts with built-in dispute resolution mechanisms, aka “smart contracts” are in the works, and “smart wills” should be possible as well, though cryonicists will probably be more interested in ways of maintaining personal control over their wealth, as described above.


Hopefully, this article has served as an understandable yet accurate introduction to Bitcoin, from both a technical and a legal perspective, with special attention to its historical connections to the cryonics community, and its possible future uses for cryonics.

Learn more: http://bitcoin.org/en/

Already a Bitcoin user? Consider making a donation to the Lifespan Society of British Columbia using the address in the article above. The Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics (www.evidencebasedcryonics.org) also accepts bitcoins, at 1Mouv 8BcRUmqVHRRNPaQPmFkzskMqoiSDk.


[1] For those who might be irritated by my switching back and forth between “Bitcoin” and “bitcoin,” the capitalized former is usually reserved for referring to the protocol as a whole, whereas the non-capitalized latter refers to units of the currency itself.

[2] Transaction fees are not required to broadcast a transaction to the network, but miners can opt only to include transactions with fees in any blocks they solve, so including a fee will result in faster confirmation by the network. The current default fee (no matter how large the transaction) is Ƀ0.0001—approximately one cent.

[3] http://www.mail-archive.com/cryptography@metzdowd.com/msg09959.html

[4] http://konradsgraf.com/blog1/2013/4/6/hyper-monetization-questioning-the-bitcoin-bubble-bubble.html

[5] That said, the world’s first operational Bitcoin ATM will be installed in Vancouver this month, with four others in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa: http://www.ibtimes.com/worlds-first-bitcoin-atm-coming-canada-robocoin-kiosk-hits-vancouveroctober-1404346

[6] http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2013/04/30/could-paypal-be-on-horizon-for-bitcoin/

[7] http://bitcoinmagazine.com/6021/bitcoin-is-not-quantum-safe-and-how-we-can-fix/

[8] http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ab/dying_outside/

[9] https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=155054.0

[10] https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Satoshi_Nakamoto

[11] Gavin is paid a salary by the Bitcoin Foundation, a non-profit working to standardize, protect, and promote the Bitcoin protocol: https://bitcoinfoundation.org/

[12] https://bitslog.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/the-well-deserved-fortune-of-satoshi-nakamoto/

[13]. Securities and Exchange Commission v. Shavers, No. 4: 13- CV-416 (E.D. Tex. Aug. 6, 2013).

[14] “Application of FinCEN’s Regulations to Persons Administering, Exchanging, or Using Virtual Currencies,” FIN-2013-G001. Available at http://fincen.gov/statutes_ regs/guidance/html/FIN-2013-G001.html

[15] http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/revenue-canada-saysbitcoins-aren-t-tax-exempt-1.1395075

[16] http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/05/20/canada_ welcomes_bitcoin_traders_fintrac_letter/

[17] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/02/us-crimesilkroad-raid-idUSBRE9910TR20131002

[18] The mining reward will halve approximately every 4 years, resulting in the total number of bitcoins never exceeding 21 million—the design rationale being that over time the number of transactions on the network will increase to the point where competition for rapid inclusion in blocks (and thus, faster confirmation of the transactions) will result in sufficient transaction fees to incentivize miners’ continued support of the network without the block reward. So while technically the supply of bitcoins is increasing, it is expected to eventually behave like a deflationary currency, relative to traditional currencies. Since 25 new bitcoins are created approximately every 10 minutes, at present over $3,000 USD worth of “new money” in traditional currencies needs to enter the bitcoin market just for the price of bitcoins to remain flat; thus, the rising price of Bitcoin, while appearing like deflation, is actually merely a function of supply versus demand (and also exchange bottlenecks).

[19] This example is rather famous in the Bitcoin community, as it was used in the popular online comic strip, xkcd: http:// xkcd.com/936/

[20] I must credit this idea to Danila Medvedev, who floated it on Cryonet Asset Preservation mailing list in August: http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/New_Cryonet/ conversations/messages/5448 (requires joining the mailing list to view).

[21] Remembering that the transaction fee is only required if you want your transaction confirmed relatively quickly. If there is no rush on the recipient’s end, one can send bitcoins without any fee at all, though it may take some time to be included in blocks, as transaction fees are part of the miners’ incentive, though for now a relatively small incentive compared with the 25 bitcoin block reward… but this will change over time.

[22] https://coinbase.com/merchants

[23] https://bitmessage.org/

[24] http://dot-bit.org/

Getting the Word Out

For this month’s column, I have been asked to write about how to start a viable and well-attended local life extension group. I suppose the reason I am qualified to write on this subject is because I have been working on precisely that for the past three years, ever since I first learned about life extension and cryonics. However, I certainly didn’t know how to do such a thing when I started out, so as much as I would love to provide a step-by-step recipe for the successes we have had in Vancouver, so much has been done by trial and error that the best I can do is communicate some of the things I believe have been instrumental in what we have managed to accomplish so far with Lifespan Society of British Columbia. So, without further ado:

Indulge your obsession… at least at first. If you are still in that highly energetic, early phase in your interest for life extension, just go with it! Read everything you can about the topics that interest you, including what the critics and detractors have to say, so that you can credibly educate others on the subject. Learn the answers to the typical objections—but be gentle when you repeat them, you don’t want to scare people off by treating them like they’re stupid for not being so sublimely rational as you are. Aim to become the person others are referred to in order to learn more about cryonics/ SENS/supplements/your topic of choice.

Make yourself available. It’s easy— just offer to take people out for coffee! Even once you have a group going, many people will find the idea of going to a group composed entirely of unknown people somewhat intimidating (I know I do!). If people reach out to you about life extension or cryonics, tell them about your group but also offer to meet them for coffee/beer/whatever. Many of Lifespan’s current members are people I had a one-onone conversation with about life extension and cryonics over the last three years.

Listen. One major piece of advice I have for anyone interested in life extension advocacy is to really listen to the people you talk to about these subjects, and learn to understand why they are interested. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that their reasoning, their philosophy, their politics are either the same as yours, or else wrong. Of course many of us tend to think that way privately, but if you allow yourself to be permeable to other viewpoints (even as you intentionally challenge mainstream beliefs by holding your divergent beliefs publicly), you could be surprised by others’ capacity to grab onto new ways of thinking. Arguing with the intent to have someone change their mind publicly is almost always a losing battle, and is more about the arguer’s ego being around to see its own triumph of reason than it is about the desired effect of changing the way people think. Ask questions and answer questions, but do so softly and humbly.

Reach out and meet up. One of the earliest things I did after becoming interested in cryonics was make contact with someone through the Cryonics Society of Canada mailing list, who I knew lived reasonably close to me, and offer to host him and any other likewise interested people he knew from the area to meet me in the boardroom of my condominium to discuss local developments. The majority of us are still involved with what became Lifespan Society, and are still meeting regularly three years later. I really think in-person meetings are key, even if the group starts small and it seems like the same discussion could be done over email. If you don’t know anyone in your area yet, check out the regional sections of larger forums, like longecity.org, or by posting an invitation to meet on a mailing list. There is also a list of regional cryonics groups at the back of this magazine, which is a good place to start.

Don’t just talk. Now, I would say that this movement is still in a sufficiently early stage that simply meeting live and talking about it is progress, but even the most passionate supporters can get bored sitting around a table discussing the same points over and over. So the next step is to build some kind of activity around the conversation (the true content) to adhere to. As an example, at Lifespan we host movie nights where we screen documentaries, videos of conference presentations, or even just thematically-related films, and then discuss them afterwards. These have proven very popular. We also had a night out at the theater recently, when the opportunity arose to see a play that touched on themes of radical life extension, transhumanism and the Singularity. We also hold nature walks and hikes, which, as a life extension group, puts our money where our mouth is by integrating some physical activity into our meetings.

Start a local mailing list, or online forum. Larger mailing lists and social networks are fantastic places to learn and to meet people, but once you reach a critical mass in your local meetings, it will become unwieldy to coordinate these via direct emails (people getting dropped from the cc’s, etc.). Get yourself a space where you can talk about local issues with local people without worrying about spamming outsiders. Some people who may not be as comfortable discussing these topics on large public fora may open up on a smaller, locally-oriented list as well. Google and Yahoo groups are both good for this, though if you’re fairly privacy-oriented, you may want to look for alternatives.

Set goals. The group’s keeners will want to be able to make progress on particular ideas, and while public meet-ups are very valuable for growing your network, they are not the best venue for objective-driven meetings with agenda, etc., because every newcomer ends up needing to be brought up to speed before they can contribute meaningfully. Sometimes also the topic of discussion may be of a sensitive nature, or there might be people who would like to attend, but are a reluctant of being publicly affiliated with “controversial” ideas, and would rather there was someone playing gatekeeper to the more serious meetings. Float a date, book a room (or if you have a big enough space yourself, volunteer your place), and circulate agenda items on your local mailing group.

Infiltrate your local university. Obviously, in this case it helps if you happen to be a university student, as I was when I first became aware of life extension. But if you aren’t a student, nor do you know one, you could strategically host a public meet-up at a venue on campus and advertise there. Students are often looking for volunteer experience for their resumes, and many universities have a club ‘incorporation’ system which grants student organizations access to club grants, and use of university venues at reduced rates or even free. Undergraduate students are comparatively easy to get excited about life extension, probably because they haven’t been in the “system” long enough to become doctrinally entrenched and hyper-skeptical. If anything, the revolution in medicine that Aubrey de Grey’s and others’ visions of life extension represent makes science feel exciting again, giving students a taste of what it might have felt like to be a budding scientist during the Space Race.

Infiltrate other groups. Find related groups, such as humanists, transhumanists, or rationalists, and start attending their meetings. There are very good arguments for separating life extension advocacy from all the “-isms” it has historically been attached to, but that said, groups devoted to these ideologies are still good places to meet people who are more likely than the average person on the street to get excited about life extension. The cross-pollination can work both ways, exposing your existing members to a forum where they can discuss things they may be interested to talk about, but that is outside the scope of your life extension group.

If you are under 30, and interested in cryonics, I would highly recommend getting funding arrangements in place, for all the usual reasons of course, but also to attend the Teens and Twenties cryonics gathering in Florida. Having attended in 2010, I can say with certainty that you are unlikely to meet a more interesting group of young persons. The gathering draws young scientists and researchers, philosophers, actors, musicians, and cryonics professionals, and there are scholarships available for cryonicists under 30 to pay full or partial costs of travel and attendance, generously provided by the Life Extension Foundation.

Find something to rally around. One of the most challenging aspects of life extension activism is that it is such a broad concept in the first place (even before considering the differences of opinion as to what exactly counts as life extension within the community itself!). Here in B.C., our need to better clarify what exactly the notorious anti-cryonics law means for cryonicists in the province, and our desire for the government to justify its existence have, since the inception of our local community, served as rallying points around which the other parts have coalesced. But a good rallying point doesn’t have to be reaction against government intervention. Perhaps there is someone in your area in a situation like Kim Suozzi, or Aaron Winborn, who is interested in cryonics, but due to circumstances (likely immediate need) cannot afford it. Whatever your objective, if you can convince the larger community of its value, you may find that they have a sufficient stake in what you are doing to provide much-needed financial support.

Get Help! At some point, it will simply not be possible for you to do everything yourself. If you are in school, or working, you will need help keeping meetings and events happening, and growing. Start developing these kinds of relationships early on, so you never get to the point of burning out—or even if you do, there are others able to take the reins for a while. And then, once you’re ready, incorporate! Not only is this a sign that you have officially ‘arrived’ as an organization, but it’s also a good idea if your activities are starting to get more attendance, and especially if they’re getting more… adventurous (from a liability perspective). It’s also difficult to attract significant funding without a corporate identity and bank account. Take advantage of free or low-cost local resources available to fledgling nonprofits. The local university chapter of Pro Bono Students of Canada was immensely helpful to Lifespan early on, connecting us with lawyer supervision for drafting our incorporating documents, as well as doing some legal research for us on the B.C. anticryonics law.

Conclusion. In writing this, I came to realize how many of the suggestions I have could be lumped under the heading of “networking.” I don’t consider myself to be a very effective networker—and if someone asked me for my feelings on networking in the abstract, I would probably tell them I positively abhor it… and that is usually the truth! But in life extension I found a topic that captivated me so completely that I did quite a lot of networking over a relatively short period of time without really realizing it. So I guess it all goes back to the top item in the list: indulge your obsession (within reason). Fuel your passion, and the rest will come naturally.

First published as a regular column called In Perpetuity in Cryonics Magazine, September 2013.

Bootstrap Personhood

(Or, Corporations are People, Too…)

In my last article, I looked at some historical and contemporary examples of legal activism aimed at expanding legal personhood to beings not already included in that category. As much as it was a fairly superficial survey, some trends could still be ascertained, firstly (and not so surprisingly) that courts tend to preserve the status quo when faced with these hard questions, and secondly, that even when the decision is made to admit or recognize new persons, courts do not provide much in the way of guidance with regards to what qualities the beings possess that were necessary and sufficient to their recognition as persons. The groups of beings which have seen some successes suing for increased recognition as persons (slaves, women) have been ones capable of speaking for themselves—even if lawyers were hired to make the actual legal arguments. Advocates for unborn human fetuses and nonhuman animals have received answers from the courts more or less along the lines of “these beings asserted to be persons have never before been recognized as persons, therefore they are not persons,” leaving any potential for change to the political realm (probably at the constitutional level). Some intermediate recognition or protection was carved out for late-term fetuses in Roe v Wade, and this is probably the most relevant case for future cryonics personhood activism because the court there gave some explanation for this protection as being founded upon the “potentiality of life” of the unborn fetus. So, if a cryonics personhood case were to rely on that particular precedent to argue that cryonics patients should receive some higher level of protection against unwanted interferences, I suspect the kind of proof required to substantiate their “potential” to live would be the resuscitation of a non-human animal from a cryopreserved state. Even then, the intermediate category carved out for cryonics patients may only extend so far as those humans who are preserved under the same or very similar circumstances to the experiment model, which may very well not include anyone preserved today.

So, the prospects for suing for cryonics patient personhood, or partial personhood are, for the moment, poor. Political activism might have a better shot, considering that “personhood amendments” extending personhood to fetuses have at least managed to make it through state legislatures in the U.S., but it is hard to imagine an interest group as small as today’s cryonics movement managing to get that kind of traction—we simply don’t have
enough votes for politicians to worry about winning. On the other hand, we have the simple truth that cryonics patients could really benefit from personhood, even if for no other reason than to hold assets that will otherwise be transmitted to next-of-kin or beneficiaries named in the patient’s will.

But haven’t we already solved that problem? Haven’t cryonics asset preservation trusts (or personal revival trusts, or reanimation trusts, or whatever name is currently in vogue), been developed for precisely this reason? Yes, they have, and with the abolishment of the rule against perpetuities in numerous jurisdictions these are a reasonably effective workaround to cryonics patients’ current lack of personhood. In a way, cryonics patients are not unlike some of the earliest users of trusts in English law— the Crusaders venturing off to faraway lands, whose future status as alive or dead was sufficiently uncertain that they felt it necessary to hand over their assets to trusted third parties to hold for the benefit of their families (and themselves, if they made it back alive), with some assurance that the law would recognize those beneficial entitlements. But ultimately, the law only recognizes persons as possible beneficiaries (well, with a few exceptions that cryonics patients don’t really fit into), and for these trusts to work as intended our patients do still need to resume personhood at some point—upon resuscitation, if not earlier.

What if, for some patients at least, revival doesn’t proceed by “resuscitation” in the mechanical sense, or even “repair,” but through some kind of uploading scenario which results in a being rather different in form from the original? If such beings are not recognized as legal persons, or the same persons as were cryopreserved, then even if the trustees do what they are supposed to do and recognize these beings as the beneficiaries, they will not have legal capacity to hold title to the property, and this could significantly limit their ability to actually use and benefit from those assets. So are we assuming too much about the legal status of such future beings when we establish trusts that, for the moment, can only benefit “persons”? Perhaps not – arguably it might not even be ethical to revive cryonics patients into any format that was not on equal legal footing with what we call “persons” today. But on the other hand, maybe we are unnecessarily committing ourselves to fitting into particular socially constructed boxes.

I am interested in exploring whether we could bootstrap personhood for our patients using the existing legal personhood of corporations. The current “standard” setup for cryonics asset preservation trusts has the trustee(s) holding legal title to assets for some interim beneficiary that has the personhood status required of it by trust law, with the resuscitated cryonics patient written into the trust as a contingent beneficiary and intended ultimate recipient of the trust capital. The interim beneficiary could in theory be anyone, but the traditional wisdom is that the patient’s cryonics organization is the safest choice, as being far less likely to seek to terminate the trust (which is something trust law allows beneficiaries to do under some circumstances).

In my model of cryonics patient corporate personhood, however, the patient incorporates a unique, incorporated “avatar” of themselves (named after them even) while still alive, to be the interim beneficiary of their asset preservation trust while they are not a person.

Now hold on a moment, you should be asking yourself—if the patient incorporates a corporate avatar of themselves, they own that corporation by holding all of its shares, and when they die, those shares will pass to their next of kin or the residual beneficiaries of their will, who would then “own” the beneficiary of their asset preservation trust. So how would that solve anything?

Well, these cryonics patient corporate persons need to be propped up somehow, and to that end I am imagining a cryonics patient personhood organization, a nonprofit organization formed expressly for the purpose of anchoring cryonics patients’ corporate identities during their cryopreservation. After incorporating their patient corporations, the cryonicists transfer their shares, and thus ownership of their legal avatars to the personhood organization. The personhood organization would be independent of all the cryonics service providers, patient care trusts, asset preservation trustees and institutions. While the patient is neither recognized as a legal person nor able to speak for themselves, the personhood organization’s only function is to perpetuate the existence of the patient corporations. Then, if the time comes that the patient is able to speak for themselves, but lacks personhood (i.e. the scenario I imagined above where “uploaded” beings are not recognized as persons, or the same kind of persons, as “natural” human persons), then the unalterable by-laws of the personhood organization direct it to operate the patient corporation on the revived patient’s instructions. And, of course, if and when the patient’s own natural personhood is recognized, the shares of the patient corporation will be transferred back to them—though by this time, its utility will have waned.

The personhood organization can serve as the anchor point for any number of patient corporations, and it would also fall within the mandate of such an organization to advocate concurrently fo recognition of “real” personhood for the patients, both before their resuscitation/ revival, and after if necessary. The critically important feature of this model for cryonics patient personhood is that not only is the cryonicist-composed membership and directing mind of the personhood organization bound by unalterable provisions of the organization’s constating documents to perpetuate and operate the patient corporations according to the patients’ wishes, but also that they have a very strong incentive to do so because they will all be relying on the same mechanism to prop up their own personhood down the road.


There is one other thing that interests me about using corporate personhood in this way. I have written before about whether cryonics patients are “property” in a truer, legal sense than we usually think of them. If this is so, then title to the patient “specimen” could be transferred to that patient’s corporate personality, subject, of course, to all the same conditions regarding the specimen’s use that accompanied the original anatomical gift to the patient’s cryonics service provider—namely that the specimen remain in the custody and care of the cryonics service provider. For some reason I find the idea of putting the “brain” inside the person like this to be very elegant, but I am not at all sure it poses any real advantage. One possible reason to do this would be that it would keep the specimens out of the cryonics organization’s asset column if at some point down the road a monetary value could be assigned to them that could become vulnerable to the threat of litigation. This, of course, is the reason why the funds earmarked by Alcor for indefinite patient care have been transferred into the Alcor Patient Care Trust; would it not make just as much sense to take similar precautions with the patients’ most precious assets—themselves?

When I presented this idea for cryonics patient corporate personhood at the Institute for Evidence-Based Cryonics symposium in May, I was asked whether it wouldn’t be simpler to just draft patient control directly into the asset preservation trusts instead of adding further complexity by inserting a patient corporation and personhood organization into the mix. I had to admit it is possible that cryonics patient corporate personhood is a semantic improvement more than a functional one. However, I do think it is important to remember that a trust is not a person, but rather a relationship between persons (i.e. trustee and beneficiary), and for so long as the cryonics patient is not a person, the trust is pointing at some other person as its beneficiary instead, that the cryonics patient is simply trusting without any legal recourse. My solution doesn’t avoid the “trust” issue entirely, but adds an additional check/balance, and gives the patient indirect control not just of the funds, but of a “person” on the other side that can hold title to property, enter contracts, and sue (…and be sued). I think it could be argued also that cryonics patient corporate personhood makes asset preservation trusts redundant—that is to say, why would you have someone hold your money for you if “you” are holding it yourself (while someone else is propping you up)? But we mustn’t forget to divide labor where appropriate. The mandate of the cryonics patient personhood organization would not be focused on wealth management, so there is still good reason to place assets in the hands of those with the expertise to make their value rise with the times. On the flip side, something cryonics patient corporations could do that asset preservation trusts (and the institutions which typically act as trustees for such trusts) are not well-positioned to do, is hold non-monetary personal property (i.e. keepsakes which are more valuable to the cryonicist in non-liquidated form).

Cryonics patient corporate personhood is also subject to one major risk that on its own justifies keeping the trust portion of the larger structure intact. Corporate personhood, or perhaps more correctly, the rights and protections currently enjoyed by corporate persons, have become the object of heightened public suspicion in recent years. It is not impossible that these rights could be rolled back, though I think a complete abolishment of the entire concept would only occur if there was a complete political revolution. In any case, as I’ve pointed out, trusts are useful to cryonics patients for some purposes, and patient corporations may be useful for others; and having an organization specifically devoted to advocating for and upholding cryonics patient personhood, in its natural and bootstrap forms, respectively, would benefit the cryonics movement overall.

First published as a regular column called In Perpetuity in Cryonics Magazine, August 2013.