Volume 4, Issue 2
December 2009

The Legal Aspects of “Forever for All”

R. Michael Perry, Ph.D.

This article was adapted from a lecture given by R. Michael Perry, Ph.D. during the 4th Annual Colloquium on the Law of Futuristic Persons, December 10, 2008, at the Florida Space Coast Office of Terasem Movement, Inc.

Dr. Perry discusses various scientific, technological, and legal issues and concerns addressed in his book, “Forever for All: Moral Philosophy, Cryonics, and the Scientific Prospects for Immortality”.

My book “Forever for All”, extends from the present day to the more distant future so there really are many issues that come up relating to legal matters. All I can do here is make a start, create a “platform” for you to explore matters further.


My talk deals with cryonics as well as the matter of persons and other creatures of the future, including persons of nonbiological substrate and their legal status.

I wanted to say a little bit about things that relate to current cryonics[1] practices first and then I will go on to what I see happening after a technological “singularity”,[2] when we will possibly be able to upload personality into artificial devices so we could have cyber-persons and such. Continuing in that vein I want to get into another issue that would come up having to do with reaching a certain level of advancement. We p1would have options of affecting our environment in certain ways; should we do certain things or not?We have a certain problem in cryonics. Basically, we who are involved in it see the practice as a medical procedure, but legally it qualifies as “disposition of a dead body” (or other remains). With a normal medical operation you might be anesthetized and the operation performed without much fanfare. With cryonics the procedure can be started only after the patient is legally dead (barring a few jurisdictions, which have not yet been used, and not counting pets). Under certain conditions terminally ill cryonicists might want to hasten legal death so the procedure can be started in a timely fashion, but there is the additional complication that cases of “suicide” are normally subject to mandatory autopsy which is highly damaging to the preservation process. Those of us who are in cryonics think of it differently than the mainstream thinks of it.

We see it as a medical procedure so the rules that apply should be just the usual ones that apply for an operation or the like, rather than what follows from the way it’s treated by by the legal system. To view it as they do, as more like a mortuary procedure or something that should apply only to persons who are legally deceased, really does create problems.

Here is one case in point. Let's say that you're a cryonicist with a brain tumor, something that's happened numerous times in actual cases. Well, you p2would like to get cryopreserved pretty quickly rather than letting nature take its course. You don't want the brain tumor to be the cause of your legal death for all the damage it would do.

You want to be cryopreserved when your brain is intact; so what do you do? You would like to be able to go to your cryonics organization and say, let's get it over with right now, but legally that means that they would be inducing a state of clinical death and that's called murder, so you have a problem there.

A fallback position might be that you hasten your own death and you then get cryopreserved. But in most cases like this people are autopsied. There is a mandatory autopsy, for instance, if you just self-medicate, if you take drugs or something to induce clinical death, which then is death from unnatural causes. You don't want to be autopsied, of course; that's a very damaging procedure. So what you want to do is hasten your death without autopsy. Is there any way to do that?

There are ways to do that, which I can illustrate. There is somebody who basically stopped eating and drinking. This is a public case, I hope that it's not too upsetting to anyone. Her name was Arlene Fried[3] and she was cryopreserved in 1990, and as it turned out it took about 12 days for the process to take effect, but she did have a brain tumor. She was in her right mind when she started this, and while it was going on. She actually received, probably, one of the best cryopreservations that had taken place up to that point.

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It does sound like that's a long time. It seems to me that I remember they might havemoistened her lips or something like that, but it was my understanding that it took 12 days. The point I want to make is that we don't want to have to go through all of that to get a good cryopreservation and, I don't have the answer, nor is there an easy answer. It certainly brings up a legal issue that we have to confront and about all I can say is you just have to bring about changes in the laws, which is easier said than done.

I wanted to make another point about the cryopreservation issue before I go on to other
topics. Somebody brought up the thought that the brain death criterion is getting to be more widely respected in legal circles as if people are moving in the direction of adopting that over other criteria. Basically before you can carry out a cryopreservation, the patient has to be legally dead. So it's a really critical issue as to what criteria you're going to use to decide if they're legally dead. We don't want it to be that they have to be brain dead. We want them to be anything but that when we do cryopreservation.

Presently the old criteria of cessation of heartbeat and respiration is adequate in most jurisdictions for declaring death. If we have to go through the stage of clinical death, we'd like the criteria to stay that way rather than being required to wait until some further condition occurs, especially brain death. I'll make another point that really the whole problem we face is that by all legal criteria a cryopreserved person is legally dead today whether it is brain death or any other thing. They aren't breathing, their heart is not beating, and if you hook up any device to them you're not going to detect brain waves despite any rumors you may have heard.

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[1] Cryonics - n. The practice of freezing a person who has died of a disease in hopes restoring life at some future time when a cure for the disease has been developed. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Massachusetts: Merriam Webster, Incorporated, 2005: 302.

[2] Singularityn. the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence. Vinge, Vernor. “The Coming Technological Singularity:
How to Survive in the Post-Human Era” VISION-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, March 30-31, 1993. http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu
August 24, 2009 4:30PM EST

[3] Arlene Fried – Alcor Cryopreservation Patient Case report: Arlene Frances Fried, A-1049. [A] uniquely comprehensive report of an actual cryonics case performed under nearly ideal conditions given the technology of its era.http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/fried.html August 25, 2009 1:00PM EST

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