By Mike Darwin
I think every cryonicist carries in his head his own unique model of the “future of cryonics.” Furthermore, I think that each individual cryonicist carries around a largely arbitrary and unique set of standards, rules and regulations concerning what constitutes “proper,” “moral,” “ethical,” or even “reasonable” behavior for both “rank and file” and “professional” cryonicists.
We cryonicists often use the words “movement” or “industry” to describe our undertaking. However, it is a commonplace to all real movements, industries (and, I would add professions) that they share at least a broad world view and a basic, common vision of the future; as well a reasonably well developed set of rules, regulations, guidelines and ethics for carrying out day to day operations. A corollary of such a basic self-regulatory framework is a “judiciary” to enforce these obligations and injunctions.
Medicine, the law, other professions, and even academia, the trades and trade unions have such value-driven enforcement mechanisms in place. In all these examples, senior and respected members of the profession, trade, or ideological movement[i] serve as appointed adjudicators to both fairly and responsibly enforce both the objective and subjective codes of behavior that have been put in place over time.
In the case of medicine, there are both private, professional organizations and state-sponsored, or state-informed organizations, such as the state medical boards, whose job it is to set and enforce a minimum standard of “right” conduct, which is understood to include moral, ethical and legal behavior. These entities do not function in a “black or white,” “all or none,” “guilty or innocent” manner. Rather, they consider the totality of the cases that come before them and attempt to reach a just resolution. For instance, under most conditions, it is unethical for a physician to engage in sexual congress with a patient. However, depending upon the circumstances, including the prior professional history of the physician, such a transgression may be handled by a simple reprimand, or alternatively, by being struck out of the profession for life.
In any mature ideological movement, religious, political, social, or otherwise, there are similar “rules and regulations” and a well defined world view and vision of the future. There may well be (and usually are) both conservatives and radicals in any given organization with respect to this world view and vision (and usually many more who are “moderates”). However, this does not prevent or preclude there being clearly and objectively stated rules. There are members of the American Medical Association who support active euthanasia and more than a few Roman Catholics who support (and use) birth control.
What does this have to do with the “future of cryonics”? Quite a lot, really, because the expectations of members and leaders within cryonics organizations will shape the actions taken by the cryonics organization as a whole – even if that “shaping” is to effectively preclude coordinated action.
For instance, cryonicists who envision rapid and largely unimpeded technological progress sufficient to make cryonics “successful” (i.e., to achieve perfected suspended animation, or to resuscitate today’s cryopatients) will likely find conflict in the brass tacks of dealing with cryonicists who have a contrary view of the future – who see the future as a difficult and dangerous place and believe that cryonics must largely make its own way and forge its own advances – and if necessary, alter the course and values of the global culture to facilitate the survival of cryonicists (both living and cryopreserved).
It is also the case that any enterprise operating completely sans written minimum standards, rules, regulations, obligations and moral and ethical expectations for its leadership and its membership will function chaotically and ultimately, will fail.
This is most evident in the case of Alcor, where the proof of such a standard-less or “lawless” operation can be found in the high turnover of management and staff.[ii] Some years ago, I was riding in a car with then Alcor President Steven Van Sickle. He remarked that he wanted to have T-shirts made up for all the Alcor Presidents, past and present, with a bull’s eye printed on them along with words to the effect of “shoot here” and “invite them to attend the next Alcor Conference to wear the shirts.” The sentiment he was expressing was that no matter what you do, you will eventually be found summarily guilty and shot. That is a true and sure sign of an organization without standards that lurches from decision to decision based on the expediency of the moment, whether it be cash flow, number of cryopreservations per year, membership growth, or avoiding a “catastrophe” of one sort or another (justified or unjustified).
Even where there are standards that are well known and written down (somewhere), such as the conditions under which at-need cases should be accepted, they are violated (as in the case of Ted Williams) – usually because those making the decisions had no mentoring and no inculturation in such rules. People do not learn “right” or “proper” behavior by being once “told the rules,” or by being given a stack of papers where they are written down (or engraved on stone, for that matter); any more than they learn moral or ethical behavior in daily life in that fashion. Such behavior, and the values that underlie them, are inculcated more than educated. No one even learns the mechanics of driving a car from reading the state-provided operator’s manual – sans lots of practice and mentoring during the actual business of operating a motor vehicle. And this is doubly true for the large body of mostly unwritten behavior that constitutes being a courteous driver! That can only be acquired from mentoring and from repetition and observation of the good conduct of others who are vastly more experienced, and for whom there is genuine respect.
The fatal flaw in Ettinger’s vision of cryonics was that cryonics itself was to come from them and not from us. In his world view, large corporations and the government would become involved almost from the beginning, as well as the trades and professions, and they would then work out all the details of what constituted right and proper conduct in every sphere of action – from rescue – through storage and “reanimation.” Clearly, that didn’t happen. And, by the way, there was no great sin in imagining that it might. The world is a wild, crazy and unpredictable place and it seems eminently possible to me that in some universe somewhere there is indeed the “freezer centered society” that Ettinger envisioned in 1962-4.
Rather, the sin is that 50+ years later, we still have not awakened to the reality that this culture and this civilization are, at best, monumentally indifferent to our undertaking and worst in deadly opposition to it.
We have a profound responsibility to arrive at a world view, a morality and code of conduct of for cryonics. That these should be reasonably inclusive and flexible there can be no doubt.
And there can be no doubt that we will neither survive as individuals nor endure as organizations if we fail to take these most basic and necessary of steps.
[i] Organizations as diverse as the Communist Party, GreenPeace , the Catholic Church and the Tea Party all have such mechanisms as well a written ideology and accompanying rules and regulations.
[ii] The Cryonics Institute (CI) has historically operated on a the “strong leader” paradigm wherein a single individual, or at most a few individuals, determine the proper course for the organization and make decisions about what is just, ethical and moral on case by case or ad hoc basis.