Days of Future Past

In what may be an apocryphal story, Benjamin Franklin when visiting London opened a bottle of fortified wine he had brought from Virginia.  Three flies had been trapped in the alcohol when it was bottled, and when the bottle was opened two of the flies revived after a few hours and flew away.

Observing this event Franklin wondered if he could be preserved in a wine barrel in order to be revived

“to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence.”

Franklin’s ideas have continued to fascinate people today. Over the past 50 years people have thought that they could preserve their bodies through Cryopreservation with a hope that a far future societies medical advances will someday allow them to be revived.

There are a variety of legal and ethical issues concerning cryonic preservation of a body. A person must be legally dead prior to the process beginning. A cryonics facility removes the blood and replaces it with organ preservation solution. The body is injected with a cryoprotectant solution to try to stop ice crystal formation in the organs and tissues and the corpse is cooled to -130C. The body is then stored in a container in a tank of liquid nitrogen, kept at -196C.

Legally, preserved individuals are dead,although the Cryonic facilities describe them as patients. Importantly under common law there is no property in a dead body. Where people have been charged with entering a graveyard and removing a corpse for the purpose of dissection it is considered a criminal conviction, for trespass, not for theft .

However Courts have found  that the preserved body of a two-headed baby could be regarded as property because it had been preserved with care and skill. This approach suggests that if a body is preserved with care and skill by an embalmer it then belongs to the embalmer, or perhaps, to the person who paid the embalmer. This has been applied where preserved body parts taken from the Royal College of Surgeons were considered to be the property of the College and the person who took them could be charged with theft.

In many countries the Cryonic preservation of bodies is illegal so those people who wish to be preserved in this way must travel to the US where it is permitted in several states. The costs of preservation are covered through purchasing a life insurance policy with the beneficiary being the cryogenic company.

Notwithstanding that in the United States around 150 people have had their whole body stored in liquid nitrogen and a further 80 have had just their heads or brains preserved. The reality is that the ability to revive a frozen body “isn’t really on the horizon.”

Without going into the nuances of neuroscience or Cartesian Dualism, how would the Will of a person who wishes to be cryonically preserved be drafted to account for their estate?

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