X-Message-Number: 21840
Date: Sat, 31 May 2003 19:12:40 -0000 (GMT)
Subject: Regulation, liberty, and the survival of cryonics organizations
From: "Charles Platt" <>
References: <>

As someone who spent his first 25 years in Britain, I certainly understand why
Sue Hopkins (who is British) reacted as she did to some fairly typical U.S.
libertarian sentiments such as "taxation is theft" and "we should not be
legally obliged to help the disabled." However I feel that Sue, and others who
reacted badly, are suffering some misapprehensions which are relevant not only
to social issues but to the field of cryonics.

Cryonics has been primarily an American movement driven by a
disproportionately large number of libertarian activists. The connection
should be obvious. The #1 tenet of libertarianism is that we have a
fundamental right to liberty (provided we do not infringe on the liberties of
others). Those who think in such terms are more likely to rebel against death,
which is the ultimate form of coercion. Also, since cryonics benefits the
individual rather than society, and libertarians tend to place the rights of
the individual ahead of the supposed rights of society as a whole, the two
worldviews have often been compatible.

It's important to remember however that this largely libertarian community
somehow came up with sufficient voluntary donations to obtain cryonics
membership for a disabled person whom most of the donors had never met. Thus
it is a mistake to assume that libertarians are cruelly indifferent to human
suffering. On the contrary: As I have seen for myself, libertarian cryonicists
can be very generous indeed.

Why, then, are they so irate when government programs seek to redistribute
their wealth? The answer should be obvious. If we accept that human beings
have a fundamental right to liberty, and if we accept the concept of
individual ownership of property, we must also conclude that no one (not even
an elected representative) has a right to take away our property with a threat
of force, unless (perhaps) some extreme national emergency is involved.

You may object that this is an unfair characterization of a welfare system,
because the "threat of force" is barely perceptible; but I have met several
people who refused to pay taxes and found themselves serving time in jail.
Coercion really is the corollary of any welfare system, and we are fooling
ourselves, or being fooled, if we pretend otherwise.

It has been argued here that a) we have a social obligation to live
cooperatively and help each other, and b) we should willingly accept laws
which are enacted by elected representatives in a democracy. (Actually the
United States is a democratic republic, not a pure democracy, but this is a
secondary, although non unimportant, issue).

In response I would say that cooperation is indeed a human virtue, but it
flourishes spontaneously in many instances with no need for enforcement. A few
miles south of my home is a wilderness area where the sparse population is so
hostile to law enforcement, the local sheriff's department has an explicit
rule that county police don't venture into this "lawless" area unless they
receive a report of natural or unnatural death. As you drive the dirt roads of
the area you see home-made signs such as "Cut wood, get shot." Yet I feel
extremely safe when I am roaming that area alone. Indeed I feel safer then
when I lived in a heavily policed urban area. Moreover, when my truck broke
down and I was stranded, some of the "lawless locals" were happy to fix my
truck for me as a neighborly gesture, even though they had never met me

Thus, it is a mistake to assume that cooperation must be enforced. Likewise,
the existence of hundreds of privately run charities proves that people are
quite willing to help others, and indeed may feel better about it if they have
a clearer idea of precisely where their money will be going.

As for our obligation to accept laws that are enacted, we know that many laws
were created to serve special interests, pacify a minority of complaining
voters, allay superstitious fears, or win reelection of legislators. Sodomy is
still an offense that can result in jail time in many states in America. Does
that mean we should accept the law uncomplainingly? Drug laws have put
millions of people in jail, even though the offenders harmed no one other
than, perhaps, themselves. More recently we have seen a plethora of new
legislation restricting human rights in response to a supposed terrorist
threat. Should we accept all these laws uncomplainingly, because our
representatives who pass the laws are wiser than we are?

Sue might argue that those who dislike certain laws should work within the
system to get rid of them--and indeed, this is precisely what many
libertarians try to do. Moreover, while libertarians may complain that
taxation is theft, they do in fact tend to pay (some) taxes, because they
understand the consequences if they refuse.

All we have seen here on CryoNet is an expression of idealistic preference.
Idealistically, most libertarians (including many cryonicists) would prefer to
see a lot of laws repealed, including laws which coerce people to surrender a
portion of their wealth which, supposedly, will be redistributed for the
greater good of society. This outlook does not mean that libertarians are
selfish beasts; it merely means they are skeptical about the ethical
justification and effectiveness of government programs, and they want to
decide for themselves how their money should be spent. Once again I must point
out that our quadraplegic friend received his cryonics membership not through
some government welfare program, but through the voluntary donations of
others, at least some of whom were libertarians.

How does this relate to cryonics? Very directly. Currently we are able to use
medications of our choice and surgical protocol of our own devising because
"dead people" are not subject to the same regulations that protect "living
people," and "legal death" may be pronounced if someone merely lacks pulse and

In reality we know that many people who experience cardiac arrest can be
revived, so long as they are not brain-dead. Therefore the viability of the
brain should be the logical legal test of whether someone is really "dead."
However, it will be catastrophe for cryonics if the legal definition of death
is revised so that it is based, more rationally, upon brain viability.
Cryopatients suddenly will not be "dead" anymore and will regain their human
rights, with all the legal baggage that has become associated with this
concept. Cryonics organizations will be subjected to the same kinds of
regulations as exist in conventional medicine, because the organizations will
appear to be more like hospitals than mortuaries.

Personally I believe that cryonics could not survive this development. It has
such a tiny consumer base, it cannot support a large overhead of regulation.

My conclusion: Those who feel sanguine generally about government intervention
might consider that their cryonics membership exists only because we have
remained relatively unregulated (so far).

--Charles Platt
(writing for myself, not necessarily Alcor)

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