Alex Massie

When Death Freezes Over...

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A fascinating and typically well-written piece by Kerry Howley about cryonics and death, published in the New York Times Magazine last week. It begins well and gets better:

There are ways of speaking about dying that very much annoy Peggy Jackson, an affable and rosy-cheeked hospice worker in Arlington, Virginia. She doesn’t like the militant cast of “lost her battle with,” as in, “She lost her battle with cancer.” She is similarly displeased by “We have run out of options” and “There is nothing left we can do,” when spoken by doctor to patient, implying as these phrases will that hospice care is not an “option” or a “thing” that can be done. She doesn’t like these phrases, but she tolerates them. The one death-related phrase she will not abide, will not let into her house under any circumstance, is “cryonic preservation,” by which is meant the low-temperature preservation of human beings in the hope of future resuscitation. That this will be her husband’s chosen form of bodily disposition creates, as you might imagine, certain complications in the Jackson household.

[...]  It has not escaped the members of the often sappily life-affirming cryonics community that their practice, so often thought to be the province of either misfit loners or rugged individualists, involves great faith in the competent benevolence of other people. Nor is Robin Hanson blind to the extent to which he depends on his tribe. Marriage, despite its lack of clean edges and predictable outcomes, is one of the few institutions he seems to have no interest in reforming. Peggy describes their conflict as akin to a deep religious difference, bridgeable by some core shared belief. “Robin and I have been together for 28 years,” Peggy says. “We’ve always loved spending time together. He is an excellent father. He devotes an enormous amount of time and energy to family life. And that has to be there.”

Robin and Peggy remain silent on the issue of how, exactly, death will part them, but earlier this year a stray bit of chatter glanced past the conversational barricade. Sitting at their kitchen table, Peggy told Robin about a funeral tradition she’d heard about: after a cremation, the ashes of the dead are separated among family members. The children and surviving spouse each get a handful, to save or dispose of as they see fit.

“You’re not getting any part of me,” Robin said. “I’m being frozen.”

“No.” Peggy said. “Your head is being frozen. I get the rest of you.”

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Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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