Today, many people have an unrealistic view of death. Death is something so far off that we somehow imagine it will never happen to us. Not really. It’s something vague that happens to old people. But then sooner or later it happens to someone you know. Not just death, but the dying process.
Let’s say it’s your mother. You knew she was sick, but you’ve spoken with her on the phone recently. Your kid sister has been taking care of her. You know abstractly that she is suffering, but you hope she will get better soon. She says encouraging things, she is putting a brave face on it.
You are familiar with the dictum that all things die, but somehow it never seemed to apply to your mom. She’s a living person, a sentient being, someone you love. You can’t imagine her not being there any more.
So one day you get the emergency call. You mother is on her deathbed. There are limited options. She can have an operation — very expensive, it might not work, but it’s your only shot at being able to speak with her again six months from now.
Imagine your horror when you find out your kid sister is considering letting her pass away. Letting her go on to her eternal rest. The doctor somehow thinks this is acceptable. Your mom even seems to be okay with it. But you wouldn’t have her with you. Somehow that just doesn’t seem right. Letting her go like that.
So you push on. You tell the doctor to do everything it takes You spend through your inheritance. Something like $200,000 worth of it. After all, what’s money compared to human life, that of someone you love? You’d feel selfish and miserly to give up and let her die so you could get your cut. It just wouldn’t be right.
And it works. Your mother survives for six months longer than she otherwise would have. Then she dies. You cry at her funeral. You tell yourself you treasured those extra moments. Your sister is sad too, but part of her seems just glad it is over.
How much different if she was signed up for cryonics? What if she died of pneumonia or some other technically treatable cause during those final few months, without spending the $200,000 on barely effective life extending treatments? What if instead she had lost her consciousness, perhaps forever (but perhaps not) six months sooner, and the $200,000 was placed instead into a trust fund to keep her brain supplied with liquid nitrogen for the next few centuries?
Never mind that she would have a new shot at existence. Never mind that her brain would potentially be repaired by nanomachines and brought back in a beautiful young body, or scanned and converted into a “computer program” that thinks, laughs, and feels like your mother did on her best days.
Instead, think of the suffering she was spared during those last months. Not just her, but your sister and other family members. In this regard we can measure the difference. In one scenario, she suffered for six extra months, in the other she was asleep for those six months.
With cryonics, you do not have to cede philosophical ground to death. You don’t have to nod your head and say it’s okay. It’s not okay. How could it be? A sentient being, someone you love — never being there again? We can’t not want to fight that. But that does not mean we can’t take chances, or that we can’t pick our battles.
The fact is if you are a cryonics patient, you don’t want a breathing tube stuck in your throat as you struggle for life while your brain slowly rots away. You want prompt cooling as soon as clinical death can possibly be established, with as little brain-affecting trauma as possible. It is simply not compatible with “heroic endeavors” as current medicine is practiced.
Cryonics puts you in a state where you can afford to wait for the cure to be perfected. In fact you must wait, it won’t work otherwise. During that time you can’t feel pain. The whole issue of whether passive / assisted dying is immoral or suicidal is side-stepped. The choice to freeze your brain instead of accepting that hopeless extra liver surgery is a hard choice, but not a defeatist one.
Human bodies are pretty much destined to wear out. That’s just the reality we live in. There’s no cure for it yet. They wear out painfully and unfairly, and it’s not that we owe it to God or Nature or any other entity to let it happen, it just does, as a scientific fact. So let us embrace that raw truth, and make our arrangements accordingly — with cryonics.