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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L164-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved April 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

Cryonics is the preservation of deceased individuals in liquid nitrogen (at −196 °C) in the hope that future technologies will succeed in reviving them, thus extending their life-span. In order for cryonics to be successful, future technology must be able not only to reanimate a body that has been cryopreserved for several years or even centuries, but also to bring back a significant portion of a person’s mental states, memories, and psychological characteristics. Cryonics is also part of a more ambitious project aimed at achieving indefinite life extension: reviving the cryopreserved at a time when ‘rejuvenating’ biotechnologies are available could make them virtually immortal.

Although revival after cryonics and rejuvenation are not yet technically feasible (and might never be), the possibility of ‘cheating death’ raises new ethical questions. For instance, should we consider cryonics a luxury good (and one we might never be able to enjoy)? Or should we consider it as the most cost-effective life-saving treatment that could possibly be developed? How we answer this kind of questions will determine whether it’s morally permissible, or perhaps even mandatory, to spend private money or public money on cryonics.

Another ethical question that needs to be addressed is whether cryonics could be a bad investment even if it turned out to be technically feasible. For example, future human beings may have no interest in reviving cryopreserved people with whom they have no meaningful connection, or from whom they differ very profoundly. Under such circumstances, the cryopreserved would remain such even if, technically, there was no obstacle to reviving them. Alternatively, life in the distant future could prove to be unbearable for someone who was born and had lived in the remote past, say because they lacked the cognitive or biological tools developed by future humans to adapt to a very different environment. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the prospect of immortality presents us with difficult philosophical questions about what makes our life worth living, and whether living is always a better alternative to non-existence.

Citing this article:
Minerva, Francesca. Cryonics, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L164-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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