July 10, 2010

NYT: Until Cryonics Do Us Part

The New York Times has published a piece about cryonicists and how not all family members buy into it. The article focuses on Robin Hanson, a name that should be familiar to most readers of this blog:
Among cryonicists, Peggy’s reaction might be referred to as an instance of the “hostile-wife phenomenon,” as discussed in a 2008 paper by Aschwin de Wolf, Chana de Wolf and Mike Federowicz.“From its inception in 1964,” they write, “cryonics has been known to frequently produce intense hostility from spouses who are not cryonicists.” The opposition of romantic partners, Aschwin told me last year, is something that “everyone” involved in cryonics knows about but that he and Chana, his wife, find difficult to understand. To someone who believes that low-temperature preservation offers a legitimate chance at extending life, obstructionism can seem as willfully cruel as withholding medical treatment. Even if you don’t want to join your husband in storage, ask believers, what is to be lost by respecting a man’s wishes with regard to the treatment of his own remains? Would-be cryonicists forced to give it all up, the de Wolfs and Federowicz write, “face certain death.”


Anonymous said...

Some issues that cryonicists don't seem to consider:

1. Funerals exist not because corpses care about what happen to them, but to provide catharsis for the survivors. Cryopreservation, while not strictly denying the possibility of providing a funeral sans corpse (or ashes), can potentially be disruptive to the emotional healing of the survivors.

2. There are people who take comfort in the fact that they will see their loved ones in the afterlife. If it turns out that someday they can be revived and rejuvenated, then... aside from denying them this, let's just say a lot of the possible implications (from their point of view) start to get ugly.

3. No one is (or should be) obligated to carry out (or allow others to carry out) "final requests" if one does not consider them to be reasonable. Many people do not consider cryopreservation to be reasonable.

4. Even if you consider it to be more like "in a coma and awaiting future medical treatment" than "dead and awaiting future resurrection", well, that probably feels worse to most people, as it's like they're not really gone but you will probably never see them again.

I make no judgment whether how ethical it is or isn't, but essentially this would be asking people with different beliefs to greatly increase their personal trauma at a time which is already among the most traumatic things they can face - merely for the purpose of paying respect.

Anonymous said...

While all that may be true, more-or-less, that leaves me wondering why their selfish needs because of their personal trauma trumps your own desires regarding what should be done with your body/estate/whatever post-mortem?

I don't think that's how it works (and shouldn't work) among actual adults.

If grandma says "I want my son's daugther to have the family rosary when I'm gone" and then dies, because her daughter is so traumatized by her death, she should just ignore those wishes, and snatch up that rosary for herself to help heal the traumatic pain?

Should the staunch Catholic who marries the unrepentant Jew and survives him be allowed to give the body a Christian burial if that was against his wishes?

Normally, we would consider either situation selfish, unreasonable, and assinine.

(Given that we are talking about dead matter at this point with emotional relevance, there's no discernable difference between a the corpse of a loved one and a treasured family rosary. It's all pieces of the dead.)

So I'm not sure I buy as reasonable the conclusion the trauma of the survivor needs to be considered and given significant weight. Since we do not do such under normal circumstances.