The Science of Cryonics; a recent topic of the Bioethics Breakfast Club
The inaugural meeting of the Bioethics Breakfast Club was a smashing success, with faculty and graduate students from across ASU coming together to discuss topical issues in biomedical ethics. Over coffee, bagels and cream cheese, this eclectic cohort talked about the ethics and (sort of) science of cryonics, a topic about which co-host and conversation leader for this first breakfast, Lincoln Teaching Ethics Postdoctoral Fellow Val Milleson, had only recently become interested. “I didn’t realize it was still a thing,” Dr. Milleson confessed. “I thought most current efforts at technologically-aided immortality focused on the newer, sexier technologies of NBIC.”
Not so. Mere miles from where the conversation was taking place, over a hundred patients are suspended in cryopreservation tanks at one of the nation’s largest cryonics facilities, Alcor. Regents’ Professor of Law Gary Marchant and Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics Director Jason Robert have both been inside the facility and were able to talk about their experiences and provide insight into this mysterious – and surprisingly local – world of cryonics.
The conversation then turned to such topics as: Who are the sorts of people seeking out cryogenic preservation? Where will law and medicine need to go to keep up with the challenges that cryonic suspension (and potential re-animation) pose? How do these life-extending efforts relate to other contemporary bioethical issues, like end-of-life concerns and physician-assisted suicide? What impact do cryonics and related technologies have on our definition and understanding of death? Why does there exist this apparent human impulse for immortality? And when, if ever, should bioethics (and bioethicists) step in and say, “Enough is enough.”
This discussion continued after the breakfast was over, with follow-up emails and articles sent out to fellow BBC members and lively conversations exchanged in some of Life Sciences Building offices and hallways. Clearly, cryonics is not only still a thing; it is a thing worth talking about. And with such interest and popularity surrounding the first topic, one hopes that the second meeting of Bioethics Breakfast Club this December will be even better.
The Bioethics Breakfast Club is hosted by Karin Ellison and Val Milleson and sponsored by the Center for Biology and Society. For more information about the BBC, or to join us for our next breakfast, please email Val.Milleson@asu.edu.