See You in A Century… Maybe?
By Lee Chen
What can we do if a person turns up with an untreatable disease? Will they await their inevitable death, time ticking away at their bedside? Only if we had more time to find a cure…
And there presents a solution… cryonics! Cryonics involves the low-temperature freezing of the human body in an attempt to resurrect it in the future. Perhaps that future contains a miracle where drugs were developed to treat the presently untreatable disease, or a world with a generally higher quality of life. Think of it as pressing pause on your life, letting the world resume its functions, before unpausing into a new and improved environment.
Sounds great, right? Impossible, even? In fact, that’s the kicker. A cryogenic procedure is yet to be successfully performed in full on any person. Not only do we have to wait for a miracle cure to be developed, but we also need to develop a method to unthaw a person after their initial low-temperature preservation. Additionally, cryonics procedures begin following a person’s death. This complicates the revival process as the process of vitrification, or cryo-preservation, causes damage to the brain and neural circuits. Cryonicists, those who practice cryonics, argue that so long as the brain remains intact, its information can be retrieved even without being continuously active.
Even with its status as a pseudoscience in the mainstream scientific community, hundreds of corpses are cryopreserved and thousands more are with arrangements to follow suit.
The ethical issue lies in whether medical professionals should allow an individual to proceed with cryogenics given its characterization as a quackery or a health fraud. Those in favor of cryonics argue that honoring a person’s final wishes is essential in many modern cultures. Additionally, the possibility of immortality or just a better life is a strong incentive to pursue a cryogenic procedure.
Those who oppose cryogenics cite its lack of scientific backing and inclination for premature euthanasia procedures. Currently, cryogenics is little more than a theory. No part of the revival procedure has been addressed, including repairing the damage from lack of oxygen and fracturing from thermal stress. Additionally, technology to revive the frozen organism does not yet exist in any form. Premature euthanasia procedures are an attractive complement to cryogenics as it remains logical to live in a more prosperous future and therefore to save our lifespan for then.
In his 2009 paper in Bioethics, David Shaw applied Pascal’s Wager to the problem. He argues that if cryonics is an unsuccessful science, there only exists a finite loss but if cryonics is a successful science, there exists an infinite gain.
Regardless of its current status as a field filled with skepticism, cryonics is experiencing growth through research. Only time will tell whether we have lost the modified Pascal's Wager or we have found a truly groundbreaking procedure that will transform human society.