If you want to cheat death, you can purchase a cryonics package for the price of a car. Of course, there is no saying it will work. The technology to cryonically freeze people and bring them back to life doesn’t yet exist – and there is no guarantee it will in the future.
Needless to say, cryonics (not cryogenics) puts a lot of faith in science and the belief that one day, researchers will find a way to reverse the deep-freezing process, thereby resurrecting your body and your consciousness. (Not to mention find a cure for what killed you in the first place.) And you have to hope that, if reanimated, your brain and body “wake up” undamaged by the chemicals used in the verification process, the -196℃ (-321°F) storage temperatures, and the cryonic process more generally.
It also puts a lot of trust in the organizations involved – you don’t want those responsible for guarding your frozen body to go bankrupt, for example, or to dispose of your body to make room for a new customer.
Which leads us to a man in Montana who is currently counter-suing the Alcor Life Extension Foundation for $1 million and his father’s head.
It all started in 2015, when Laurence Pilgeram, a biochemist and long-time advocate for cryonics, died from a heart attack. Having signed up to be cryopreserved when he was 67, he was taken away to an Alcor facility. There was just one small hiccup.
According to the Alcor website, having your entire body suspended in time – as Pilgeram had requested – requires almost instant freezing. But because Pilgeram had died at the weekend, his son says there was a delay getting his body to the facility. And so, rather than give him the full body treatment, Alcor removed Pilgeram’s head and sent the cremated remains of his body to his family members.
Now, his son is claiming the company is refusing to return his father’s head so that it can be cremated by the family. He argues his father’s head was improperly removed by Alcor and that his father, though a supporter of cryonics in general, was not in favor of “neurocryopreservation”, which involves the freezing of the head only. This situation is made all the more complicated by Pilgeram’s agreement, made in 1990, which includes the caveat Alcor may not always be able to carry out the wishes of the client due to various practicalities.
The case, which started in 2017 with Alcor suing Pilgeram junior and is due to be heard by the Superior Court of California in 2020, highlights the sticky ethical and practical conundrums surrounding cryonics.
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