Volume 4, Issue 2
December 2009

The Legal Aspects of “Forever for All”

R. Michael Perry, Ph.D.

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There are some movies that might create the impression that there is some kind of mental life that might go on in the cryopreserved state, but nobody has found any tangible evidence of that. Basically, what I'm saying is that if they're not brain dead before
cryopreservation, this operation is a process of transitioning between not being brain dead to being brain dead, at least in the eyes of the law, and potentially that could cause us problems.

Now I'm going to go to the future. There is talk of a so-called “Singularity"; it is usually defined as when machine intelligence is greater than present day human intelligence. It should be accompanied by a very rapid, great increase in the rate of technological advances and so on.

The world could rapidly turn into something quite different than what we are familiar with, so that could raise many possibilities. One of these, though, is
that you could have cyberpersons and you could create a person from scratch that way or you could read information from a human brain into a device. From that point you might transfer a personality into an artificial device, maybe some type of artificial body which might be very much like a human body but tougher and more fun to be in, or stronger, smarter, whatever. It may be no better in those ways but instead more durable.

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Certainly that will raise many possible legal issues. I will go through just a few, but of course you have to consider whether a cyberperson should really be considered a person. That's something that a lot of effort has been devoted to in previous sessions of Terasem's programs and we are still dealing with that. In any case it should be possible to do things like basically reducing people to a chunk of information. Information can be transmitted as a message, so if you wanted to go thousands of miles away you could have your information transmitted at a rate of thousands of miles per second, which would mean essentially you would almost instantly wake up at your destination.

Inevitably, you would expect accidents to happen from time to time and one possibility is that somehow the message gets duplicated and sent to two different locations or more. In that manner you could get several individuals— they would be cybertwins—and every one would be on an equal footing. What would you do in a case like that? I don't have an answer but if all these individuals wanted to continue to exist they would just be separate persons. They would have a common past but be different people.

And they might well want this. That is to say, they might not be comfortable with some kind of deletion or combining operation that would coalesce them back into one person, but instead might insist on living separate lives. How would laws be written to handle cases like that?

What about property rights? If the person had property beforehand, who would inherit this property? Would it have to be divided up or what? You might get away with duplicating some of it, but I could see where that wouldn't always work.

In my book, “Forever for All”, I also raise the possibility that someone might have a significant other, so there perhaps you could duplicate this individual and make enough copies for everybody, but that would certainly create a legal matter to deal with. Today reproductive rights are important; they always have been. There seems to be an assumption in most jurisdictions that people can have children as much as they want. In China they do try to limit that. But what about in the future?

It might become very easy to create more people in different ways. You could create copies of yourself or you could create people from scratch. Should there be a law about reproductive rights? Is it possible that people will just voluntarily choose the right behavior all the time or would there need to be laws declaring amounts of restrictiveness? How restrictive would the laws have to be to make sure that things stayed within a reasonable bound, to avoid overpopulation or straining the resources? I don't have the answer but these matters are something to think about.

There are many possibilities that I consider in the book regarding either reanimating or recreating persons of the past. A simple possibility is just cryonic resuscitation.

The idea that I wanted to introduce here is that basically you're going to be in some way or other reinstating people from the past and presumably at the level they were at before.

If something like a “Singularity” happens, though, there could be very rapid changes in what you consider to be an adult person, so I'm raising the issue that our level today is not going to be equal to that of what is legally considered to be an adult in the future. It would be more like infancy.

Anybody that is cryopreserved in our time or close to it might find themselves treated that way. You might find that you can't go across the street unaccompanied or something like that. There no doubt will be laws and rights that pertain to more advanced beings than we are. I raise that as one more issue to think about.

I will go on now to one other topic that I wanted to bring up. Along with other advances we will probably have the ability to make interventions in the environment that are not possible today. On the other hand, I believe there will be concern about the suffering of sentient beings versus their happiness. I don't think that people of the future will just be indifferent to these issues, and I don't think they should be. The fact is that animals in the wild live a pretty hard life in many ways. They are subject to predation, disease and other causes of suffering. I have seen some of these things on TV and a lot of you may have.

When the lions jump on the zebras, that just stands out in my mind. That's nature but nature red and tooth and claw, as they say, and I know most people have a respect for the natural environment and so to a first approximation you might want to say, well, let's leave it like it is, it's a beautiful thing, let nature take its course. But there are some things that go on that really are hard to accept. One possibility is that some drastic changes would be enforced, I mean legally enforced. Maybe there won't be any more predatory animals, just based on compassionate considerations.

I read something interesting recently where they injected some DNA from the Tasmanian Tiger[1] into a mouse and it somehow took hold so the mouse ended up with this DNA in its cells.

That brings up another interesting issue that I will briefly comment on. It should be possible to recreate extinct species from preserved remains. That should be an easier problem than recreating an individual creature because it would involve only or mainly the genome, not the brain with memories. However if you take a Tazzy Tiger, for instance, it was a predator and it fed on another kind of creature called a wallaby. So if you really wanted to reinstate this creature, would you reinstate it as a predator which means would you supply it with creatures to prey on, or would you do something else?

On the cryonics issue, there are no easy answers. Tough it out, try to optimize on a case- by-case basis, support legislation to give more choices to the patient.

On the rest, good principles are fine but not a substitute for good persons. We must cultivate becoming “good persons” even as we advance to higher levels in other ways. Only in this way will we be able to make the right judgments on the difficult issues that will arise. We must carry out a “labor of love” to make the future what it ought to be, with essentially a religious motivation, guided by the knowledge acquired through science and reason.

Forever for All: Moral Philosophy, Cryonics, and the Scientific Prospects for Immortality

This book considers the problems of death and the hereafter and how these ages-old problems ought to be addressed in light of our continuing progress. A materialistic viewpoint of reality is assumed, denying the likelihood of supernatural or other superhuman assistance.

[1] Tasmanian Tiger - The Tasmanian Tiger or thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) is the only species of the marsupial family Thylacinidae to have existed within historical times. It is often referred
to as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf, but being a marsupial, it is neither a tiger nor a wolf
in any true sense. It is, however, an excellent example of convergent evolution. http://www.naturalworlds.org/thylacine/
August 25, 2009 8:34AM EST

The following link contains a personal account by Linda
Chamberlain of the
cryopreservation of her mother
[Arlene Fried].
http://www.alcor.orgAugust 25, 2009 1:15PM EST


R. Michael Perry, Ph.D. is the Patient Caretaker at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona. He monitors Alcor’s dewars, provides facility surveillance during off-work hours, and performs writing tasks and computer programming. Dr. Perry authored or contributed to the automated cool down and perfusion modeling programs and has maintained the patient log books for many years. He is a regular contributor to Alcor newsletters, has been an Alcor member since 1984, and authored “Forever for All: Moral Philosophy, Cryonics, and the Scientific Prospects for Immortality”.

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