Frozen in Time (The Latest Head's Up on Ted Williams)
Well, the baseball season is in full swing around Boston (and, with the Red Sox' present league leading W-L record, I do indeed mean full swing), and we just observed Memorial Day....so one thing led to the other and The Boston Globe had an article the other day (by Kevin Paul Dupont) on what was up with the late, lamented Red Sox superstar, Ted Williams.
For those never knew or have mercifully forgotten, Williams' family decided to deep freeze him in hopes of bringing him back to life if and when cryonic technology evolves to the point where this is possible. The most macabre element of the Teddy Ballgame saga was that the slugger's head was detached from his body, so old Ted is frozen in a couple of pieces. So, it seems, cryonics will have a major attachment problem on their hands once they unfreeze Ted.)
For those who'd like to learn more about cryonics (including the theology - ahem - behind it), Ted is frozen in time at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Alcor tells us what Cryonics is:
Cryonics is a speculative life support technology that seeks to preserve human life in a state that will be viable and treatable by future medicine. It is expected that future medicine will include mature nanotechnology, and the ability to heal at the cellular and molecular levels.
And what it isn't:
Cryonics as practiced by Alcor is not an interment method, mortuary practice, or dead tissue preservation.
At any rate, the article - not to mention the side trip to Alcor - got me thinking about the whole cryonics business - and what an odd, eccentric business it is.
For one thing, there are only (according to The Globe article) 161 heads and/or bodies frozen worldwide. A 2006 article in a local Phoenix paper noted that Alcor had at that point 28 frozen bodies and 46 frozen heads, or nearly half the worldwide number of, errrr, "patients." There's a pretty good economic reason that heads comes up more frequently than tails: it's $150K to freeze a body, and $80K to freeze a head. The governing assumption is that by the time cryonics "works" it will be possible to clone a body for you. Raising the question of just what age the cloned body will be. I mean, if I were going to have a cloned body, I'd want one that was lot younger. And while I was at it, I guess I'd want a face that matched the body. Maybe you get a facelift as part of the deal.
Well, do the math. Even assuming the full price, if Alcor's prices are at market, the "value" of this business to date is $24 million. Even if people pay something to join in advance, this isn't much of an industry. Alcor is a non-profit. I'll say.
There are, of course, oodles of philosophical, moral, and practical questions around this whole area.
For starters, how many new leases on life can you get.
Say, like Ted, you die in your 80's and get brought back (cloned body or not), you're still in your 80's, right? According to Cryonics, you'll have all your memories? So, you're still in your 80's. But how many more years to you get? Can you get frozen the second time around and wait up for newer, more improved technology? Or is it like frozen food - once it thaws, you have to consume it or toss it out?
And what about family members?
If your parents died in their 70's, and you die in your 90's, and you all come back together, are you older than your parents? (I'm my own grandpa?)
And what about those who can't afford the opportunity of a lifetime that cryonics offers. For those who believe in an afterlife, it's equal opportunity. Everyone (where who's included in "everyone" will vary from religion to religion, I guess) gets a shot at it. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.
In the Dupont article, Ted Williams' daughter describes her family as putting their faith in "science". (Her brother - who died pretty young - is also frozen, cold, and dead in Alcor.) Some people believe that they'll be reunited spiritually or bodily in the afterlife. Why not let the cryonically inclined have their afterlife on earth?
Well, I believe in science, too, so maybe cryonics should be for me. After all, other than at the particulate level, I don't believe in an after life. Nice surprise if it works out that way - and I'd especially love it if I could see my father again - but....
Oh, I can understand how parents who've lost a child might crazily convince themselves to freeze the child's body in the hopes that the technology would be there to bring him or her back. But even if the grieving parents fast forward a bit, they'd have to come to the conclusion that, given that expert cryonic opinion suggests we're 50-100 years off, they're putting their child in an odd situation? Who's going to be around to care for that child?
Isn't death the one big fact of life that we all have to deal with? We can either ignore this reality or face it, but we're all going to be pushing up daisies, buttercups, or dandelions at some point. (I recently planted geraniums at family graves, and in our world it's buttercups and dandelions. I left the buttercups and dug out the dandelions - although I didn't have a screwdriver with me, which was my father's proven and approved method for dealing with dandelion on the lawn.)
I'm all for stem cell research, but cryonics is way too much playing a really odd form of God for me.
Enough is enough.