Cryonics 4th Quarter 2010
by Ralph Merkle
You’ve thought about cryonics for quite a while, analyzed the issues pro and con, checked out the organizations, finally got all the paperwork taken care of and … congratulations! You’re now a member in good standing!
Time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor, right? Well, almost. What about mom and dad? Or your spouse? Or that special brother or sister, or uncle or niece or cousin? Or your closest friends?
Even if they decide cryonics is something they want to do, everybody procrastinates, so how long will it take them to actually sign up? There’s no guarantee they will ever decide to do it. They might procrastinate until it’s too late.
Which means you should help the process along. You need to introduce them to this new set of ideas slowly, gradually, but effectively. Where to start? What’s the best approach?
Let’s pick a name — you’re trying to get Pat (who could be either Patrick or Patricia, husband or wife, brother or sister, father or mother, uncle or aunt, niece or nephew, or any close friend or relative) to sign up. You care about Pat, and hopefully Pat cares about you. But Pat might or might not see eye-to-eye with you on a variety of issues, cryonics included.
Starting out logically
Before you even begin, you need to understand that simply asking “would you like to sign up with Alcor?” carries with it the risk that Pat might say “no.” Once Pat says “no,” it’s harder to get to “yes” than if you had never asked.
So unless you are pretty sure the answer is going to be “yes,” don’t ask. Instead, start understanding Pat’s views on cryonics, or perhaps more cautiously start with life extension in general. Where you start depends a lot on Pat’s sensitivities and how much time you have. If Pat is terminal you’ll have to accelerate the schedule even at the risk of hearing “no.” But normally you’ll have time to approach the subject more carefully.
One of the safer approaches is to discuss your own interests in cryonics. If you and Pat share similar outlooks this approach also has the advantage that the perspective that persuaded you is likely to work with Pat. It also lets Pat see how the various issues cryonics raises can be worked through on a familiar example: you. At the same time, you aren’t asking Pat to reach any conclusions or make any decisions, you are only asking Pat to listen to a story: your story. Most people are willing to listen to a story, particularly one about life, death, science, technology, the future, and the amazing possibilities that wait ahead for all of us in the coming decades.
If Pat likes books or videos there are plenty to recommend. YouTube and the web offer a wealth of possibilities. The Alcor FAQ at www.alcor.org/library/ or the cryonics page at www.merkle.com/cryo offer some excellent suggestions. If Pat doesn’t have much enthusiasm for cryonics, you can try the nanotechnology approach. Amazing computers! Astonishing medical technology! Type “Merkle Nanotechnology” into one of the video search engines and select an “Introduction to Molecular Nanotechnology” for a good overall introduction to that area. You can also check out LessWrong or OvercomingBias for free-for-all discussions of cryonics, technology, and the many foibles in human thought; or www.FirstImmortal.com for a free download of an entertaining and thought-provoking pro-cryonics novel.
Friends and family
More social approaches involve friends, social interactions, lunches, meetings, movies, or conferences that are cryonics-friendly. Depending on where you live getting involved in these can range from easy to very difficult. Cryonics groups with regular meetings now exist in several areas, and more are on the way. It’s a lot easier to make a decision if you do it with others, so any friendly social support you can create will help not only you and your friends and relatives, but everyone else in the area as well.
A common concern, which Pat might share, is fear of waking up in a future with no friends. At the very least you can reassure Pat that you plan on being there. If there are any children or grandchildren that Pat is fond of, they can also be brought into the picture. Let’s say Pat is fond of young Dorothy.
“And what about Dorothy? She adores you. You’ll be able to talk with her when she’s grown up. You’ll be able to pass on the family history, to find out what she’s done with her life.” Advances in medical technology in the next 60 years will almost certainly greatly extend human life span, implying that Dorothy, who can reasonably expect to live for 60 more years without any further advances at all, will have access to remarkable technologies and will have a very long and very healthy life indeed — long enough to be there when Pat is revived. Of course, you’ll have to persuade Pat that this is plausible — but the same set of technologies required to revive Pat will have earlier demonstrated their abilities on easier problems — like keeping Dorothy alive and healthy well beyond what is possible today. If Pat thinks cryonics has some credibility, then keeping young Dorothy alive long enough is likely to have similar credibility.
If you’ve persuaded any other friends or family members to join Alcor you can tell Pat about them, and you can also introduce Pat to any friends in the area who are already members. If Pat wakes up in the future, anyone else who has signed up should wake up with her. Any existing social ties with people who are either (a) very young or (b) already members of Alcor can help reassure Pat that the future will have at least some familiar faces.
The purpose of this first phase is to answer all the basic questions and to provide all the information that you can, and to get Pat used to the idea of cryonics in a non-confrontational atmosphere. There’s no need to get into any emotionally charged discussions if Pat hasn’t heard that cryonics is paid for with life insurance, or that vitrification eliminates ice formation, or that tissue preserved in liquid nitrogen is effectively unchanged for thousands of years, or that you think it’s a good idea, or that there are reasonable people (hopefully friends that Pat can meet) who are already signed up.
Should you ask?
At some point you’ll have to make a decision: should you move forwards and ask about Pat’s personal interest in cryonics, or should you continue with the soft sell?
While it would seem that there is no choice, that you have to ask whether Pat is interested or Pat has no chance of being cryopreserved, this is not strictly true. If you don’t ask, then the legal decision might well fall to Pat’s kin following Pat’s legal death. There are very specific laws governing who has (or does not have) the authority to make “post-mortem” arrangements to cryopreserve Pat. Specific legal documents left by Pat would normally take precedence. In their absence, legal authority falls in a specific order on surviving relatives — typically the spouse, then the children, then the parents, then the siblings, then more distant relatives — but this might vary depending on the jurisdiction.
If you ask, and the answer is no, then Pat will not be cryopreserved. If you do not ask then the answer is often no, but it really depends on very specific details: exactly who will make the decision? Do the people making the decision understand cryonics? Can they give informed consent? Exactly where will the funding come from? Are there relatives who will object? While it’s possible Pat will be cryopreserved if you don’t ask, this path is fraught with dangers and the actual answer depends on the exact circumstances and events at the time of legal death.
People sometimes become more flexible when they find themselves facing their own mortality. When your doctor tells you you’re dying, or you need a biopsy on that lump to see if it’s malignant, or you wake up in the hospital and everyone is oh-so-reassuring, you can sometimes be more willing to listen to new options. Maybe that vegetarian diet and exercise program wouldn’t be so bad. And that cryonics business — OK, maybe you’ll listen. These moments are not to be squandered, and they come on their own schedule.
So let us imagine that you visit Pat in such a moment, in the hospital, and out of the blue Pat says “I almost didn’t make it. I’ve been thinking about what you said, and I’ve decided to sign up with Alcor. Once I’ve recovered I’ll fill out the forms. What’s involved?”
Success! But wait, Pat is in the hospital. People die in hospitals. And what was that about “once I’ve recovered…”? How long will it take to recover? And add to that all the time it takes to make all the decisions (neuro is so much less expensive but do I really want to tell everyone that’s what I’ve done?) and get all the paperwork filled out and notarized and witnessed. Exactly how healthy is Pat? How bad was that surgery? How big is the risk that Pat will die before every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed? The fact that Pat just had a brush with death means there’s more risk than either of you want to think about.
Durable Power of Attorney for Cryopreservation
But you are prepared, right? You say “That’s great! I just happen to have a Durable Power of Attorney for Cryopreservation with me that you can sign right now. This hospital probably has a Notary Public on staff, and if not we can look one up in the yellow pages and for a small fee (perhaps ~$80 on short notice) they’ll drive over right now. And we’ll need two witnesses. Two nurses will do just fine!”
While it might be legally possible to get away without the notary, consider the circumstances under which this form might be used â€“ there are likely to be no other records and no other “neutral” witnesses to Pat’s intent, and it’s quite possible that Pat had previously expressed disinterest in cryonics. So don’t skimp. And make sure the witnesses talk with Pat and understand that Pat understands what’s going on. If there are any questions later, you want the witnesses to say “Yes, it was very clear that Pat wanted to be cryopreserved, and was aware and alert, and completely rational. No, no signs of dementia or delirium. Yes, Pat understood exactly what it meant, we all talked about it.”
While the precise form and requirements for a Durable Power of Attorney vary from state to state, the general idea is illustrated in the form shown here (pages 13-16), which is for California.
This form and the associated legal rituals involved in witnessing and notarizing it do several things. First, it declares Pat’s desire to be cryopreserved, and provides witnesses who can attest to this. Second, it gifts Pat’s human remains to Alcor. Third, it creates a power of attorney so that you can carry out Pat’s wishes. Fourth, it makes that power durable so that even if Pat suffers from mental decline (all too common in a hospital setting for a variety of reasons) or is simply too weak to cope with the task, you will still be able to carry out Pat’s wishes. And fifth, at least in the example given here, you are paying for Pat’s cryopreservation (which eliminates one reason Pat might have for saying “no”).
Once you’ve gotten the Durable Power of Attorney for Cryopreservation signed, notarized, and witnessed there are three likely scenarios.
The first and best scenario is that Pat recovers uneventfully, completes the Alcor paperwork, and becomes an Alcor member. The Power of Attorney is not needed.
The second scenario is that Pat becomes mentally incompetent (likely from a medical problem related to but secondary to the cause of hospitalization). The Power of Attorney is critical in completing Pat’s signup. Congratulations on being prepared!
The third scenario is that Pat suffers legal death either in the hospital or shortly after discharge but before completing the sign up process. At this point, the Power of Attorney is rendered null and void because that is their nature. They cease to be effective upon the death of the principal. The notarized and witnessed declaration of Pat’s desire to be cryopreserved remains valid, as does the gift of Pat’s human remains to Alcor. These, coupled with the subsequent written agreement of the next of kin and the financing that was secured (in large part because everyone agreed that the notarized and witnessed document provided clear evidence of Pat’s wishes, and everyone wanted to honor Pat’s wishes) were sufficient to carry the day. Again, congratulations on being prepared!
If you didn’t get the Durable Power of Attorney for Cryopreservation signed, notarized and witnessed there are two likely scenarios. The first scenario is the same as before: Pat recovers uneventfully and joins Alcor. You just dodged a bullet.
The second scenario is painful even to think about: you watch Pat die knowing that Pat wanted to be cryopreserved but having neither a legal basis to make the arrangements nor even evidence to convince anyone else that Pat had actually wanted to be cryopreserved. Pat was either buried or cremated. Our condolences.
Pat is not convinced
The preceding scenarios assumed that a brush with mortality was enough to convince Pat to sign up with Alcor. This is not always the case. Sometimes, even after years of reasonable rational discussion, Pat isn’t convinced. In this particular scenario, your hand is forced because Pat is terminal and time is running out.
Again, you visit Pat in the hospital.
You arrive, and Pat says “It’s nice to see you. I’m feeling better today. They’ve got some new kind of painkiller that’s just marvelous.”
“That’s right, you can have all the marijuana you want now, right?”
“Yeah, but it leaves my brain kind of foggy. I like the new stuff. It’s expensive, but it leaves my brain clear and the insurance pays for it.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear your brain is clear. Look, I’d like to talk with you about something.”
“No, I don’t want cryonics.”
An emotional argument
Well, you’ve tried all the soft sell approaches. You’ve used all the rational arguments. You’ve pointed out all the simple, easy, straightforward reasons why Pat should choose cryonics. They haven’t worked. It’s time to try something with a bit more punch:
“How would you feel if I put a shotgun in my mouth and blew out my brains?”
Pat might well try to evade answering the question. The obvious counter to any attempt at evasion is to simply repeat the question (possibly in shortened form or possibly after acknowledging Pat’s attempted counter but then saying that doesn’t answer the question):
“How would you feel if I put a shotgun in my mouth and blew out my brains?”
It seems unlikely that Pat would feel at all good in response to your hypothetical action, so we can reasonably assume that Pat eventually provides some variant of the following answer:
At which point you can say:
“That’s how I feel about what you’re doing. Look, it’s easy for you to say you don’t want cryonics. You won’t have to grieve over your own death — but I will. Remember when died? Remember how you felt? Well, that’s how I’m going to feel if you aren’t cryopreserved. And I’m going to keep grieving for you for the rest of my life. Is that what you want to leave me, a lifetime of grief?”
If Pat has conceded that cryonics has some chance of working you can make an even stronger argument: “Even worse, think about what happens if cryonics is successful and I’m revived and rejuvenated: the rest of my life could be thousands of years or even longer. I’m scared I’ll never stop thinking about you and wishing you were with me, going over this conversation we’re having right now again and again in my mind, and blaming myself for not being more persuasive, for not trying harder, and for eventually giving up.” 
The primary purpose of the opening question and the essentially forced response is to snap Pat out of the “this is my decision and nobody else has a say in it” mind set. Pat’s decision influences more people than just Pat (if Pat cares about anyone else who supports cryonics, mention them as well). It’s also appealing to an implicit notion of fairness. If there’s some important reason Pat should be buried or cremated rather than cryopreserved, now is the time for Pat to explain it — otherwise Pat is just hurting people for a whim, and most people most of the time try to avoid hurting others, even if it means they can’t do exactly what they want.
The emotional argument being made is quite simple and is based on few assumptions. Stated explicitly, it is: “Pat, if you are buried or cremated your loved ones (at least those of us who think cryonics is a good idea) will suffer and grieve for decades, if not a lot longer. If you’re cryopreserved, we won’t. Is being buried or cremated really so important to you that you are willing to put us through that kind of pain? For what reason?”
This emotional argument is valid regardless of Pat’s skepticism or doubts about cryonics — because it’s your belief in cryonics that makes it work, not Pat’s doubts.
Distractions: it won’t work
Pat might try to distract from the core emotional argument by any of several techniques. For example, Pat might say:
“So you say, but nobody thinks this cryonics stuff is going to work.”
While I normally love a technical argument — because I enjoy winning — at this point Pat is using the technical argument to divert attention away from the emotional argument, which Pat is losing. There are two obvious counter arguments. The first counter is to refuse to engage in a technical discussion at all by saying something like “But I believe cryonics works. So if you are cryopreserved I won’t grieve your death. Perhaps I am wrong, but right now, today, based on the currently available evidence, I believe cryonics works.” This can be used by itself if you are not comfortable with a technical counter.
The second counter is to use a simple technical argument and get back to the emotional argument. Something like: “You’ve had plenty of time to check out cryonics, and didn’t. We both know the published technical literature on cryonics supports it, I’ve told you this before. I’ll repeat it: there are technical articles and credible technical arguments that support cryonics. There are no credible technical arguments against the feasibility of cryonics. Name one credible technical argument that cryonics won’t work. Just one.”
If Pat tries to counter with the usual shallow newspaper coverage that says cryonics is “controversial” the counter is “That’s not a technical argument.” Optionally, you can either point out that the newspaper has presented no argument at all, or explain why the “argument” that it presents is nonsense. You can also counter with “Do you have a reference for that?” This is useful when someone says “I heard somewhere that someone said that some scientist found that freezing brains causes them to explode.”
Normally this sort of cheap “name one” argument relies on the fact that average folk can’t name much of anything. In this case, though, there literally are no technical arguments against cryonics that can withstand even a moment’s scrutiny. The technical literature is bereft of any credible argument that cryonics won’t work. This is a short, easy and very strong argument. You should verify this personally so that you can use this argument with some confidence. To use it most effectively you should be prepared to counter the more common myths, falsehoods, and outright lies — (the brain dies after five minutes, frozen cells look like hamburger, all the molecules are destroyed, etc.) that are commonly used to dismiss cryonics. Most of them can be found in Alcor’s FAQs.
Perhaps most effectively, you can use both counter arguments. Firstly, this is not about whether cryonics actually works, it is about the fact that you believe cryonics works; and secondly, the technical literature says cryonics should work, which is a major reason that you believe it works.
At this point, Pat is pretty much reduced to the “it’s too expensive” argument and the “it would look strange” argument.
The simplest counter to the “it’s too expensive” argument is “I’ll pay for it.” Of course, there are some issues with this. If Pat is your spouse, it’s not clear this makes much difference as you and Pat likely share your finances anyway. Pat can also counter with “I won’t let you take on such a burden for my sake.” There is also the problem that it is expensive and it is a burden. Depending on your circumstances, and how close you are to Pat, this might be a serious consideration. It’s best to have thought this through before entering into the discussion. If you have decided you’d rather cryopreserve Pat than have the money, then the counter is “Your life is worth more than the money.” This can be phrased in various ways — you might want to think about which way will best persuade Pat. An aggressive phrasing is “Do you really think I’d be happier letting you die to make a few bucks?” More politely, “I can always make more money, but once you’re dead, you’re dead.” You can avoid explicit discussion of money entirely and simply say “I’d rather have a future with you than without you.”
Pat might fear what the other relatives, or the neighbors, or the sewing circle, or whoever will say about being cryopreserved. First, you can promise to be discreet. You won’t tell them, there will be a memorial service, it will be very tasteful, etc. Second, Pat can always tell them it’s a favor to you — which it is. Pat can claim to have graciously decided to honor your deeply held concerns by being cryopreserved, and need not confess to anyone that cryonics was starting to sound pretty attractive, especially when compared with the ever more imminent and rather unattractive alternatives. And finally, if you’ve secured any support from other family members or the relevant social groups, you can cheerfully announce that they think cryonics is just fine!
If Pat says “yes” at any point during the previous discussions you should immediately get Pat’s witnessed and notarized signature on the Durable Power of Attorney for Cryopreservation. Don’t forget to review and revise this document with an attorney to create a version that is valid for your jurisdiction, and to review and perhaps revise the funding mechanism to be consistent with your circumstances. After that is done, you can sign up Pat with Alcor.
If Pat never says yes, you are up against some deep seated prejudices. There’s not much more to do, particularly if time is limited. If Pat denies it will work, doesn’t care if she ever meets a grown-up Dorothy, doesn’t care if you spend the rest of your life grieving, is terrified of what Aunt Sophy thinks (even after Aunt Sophy says she doesn’t care), and thinks dying is (for some mysterious reason) a very attractive option, then it’s pretty much over. If you have enough money you might try a $1M bribe to Pat’s favorite charity, but at some point we have to confess that we are not going to win all the battles.
Persuading Pat to sign up starts out slow, cautious, and logical. It begins with gentle probes, providing easily digestible material that explains what’s going on and provides more in-depth coverage of those areas where Pat is curious, or has doubts, or wants deeper understanding. Connect Pat with the relevant social networks and research communities that are exploring the concepts of life extension, cryonics, nanomedicine, nanotechnology, and other related areas that might be of interest. Go for the easy wins and the simple arguments first. Life insurance is cheap. Cryonics is about saving lives. The science is there. There are no credible technical arguments against it. You’ll wake up healthy, not old and feeble. You’ll make your cryonics friends and relatives happy.
When that process has gone as far as it can, see if it has influenced Pat to take personal action. If not, move to more emotionally based arguments that appeal more directly to more basic motives, eventually moving to the most basic and raw motives.
Best of luck.
 Jim Halperin, author of The First Immortal, the most insightful novel about cryonics ever published, gave this description when he reviewed an earlier draft and said “This is the exact argument that finally convinced my dad earlier this year after countless unsuccessful attempts over the previous 15 years.”