The Corner

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Assisted Suicide by Brain Freezing

Belgian researcher Jeroen Schuermans holds a human brain at the psychiatric hospital in Duffel, Belgium, July 19, 2017. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

What an era. One one hand, we have materialist transhumanists — terrified of death — promising a corporeal immortality via uploading our minds into computers.

At the same time, we have the assisted-suicide movement terrifying people at the prospect of agonizing deaths, pitching an earlier death by hemlock to avoid suffering.

And now, the two great terrors of our day — of death and of suffering — are being combined into a sales pitch by a company promising to kill you via freezing your brain, so that you can later be brought back in a computer-program-resurrected life! From the Technology Review story:

Nectome is a preserve-your-brain-and-upload-it company. Its chemical solution can keep a body intact for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, as a statue of frozen glass. The idea is that someday in the future scientists will scan your bricked brain and turn it into a computer simulation. That way, someone a lot like you, though not exactly you, will smell the flowers again in a data server somewhere.

This story has a grisly twist, though. For Nectome’s procedure to work, it’s essential that the brain be fresh. The company says its plan is to connect people with terminal illnesses to a heart-lung machine in order to pump its mix of scientific embalming chemicals into the big carotid arteries in their necks while they are still alive (though under general anesthesia).

And thanks to assisted suicide, it may all be legal for the company to commit homicide in the great transhumanist cause!

The company has consulted with lawyers familiar with California’s two-year-old End of Life Option Act, which permits doctor-assisted suicide for terminal patients, and believes its service will be legal. The product is “100 percent fatal,” says McIntyre. “That is why we are uniquely situated among the Y Combinator companies.”

I don’t think so. Assisted suicide requires — at least for the moment — self-administration.

That point aside, people are paying good money to get on the euthanasia-by-brain-freeze waiting list:

Nectome’s storage service is not yet for sale and may not be for several years. Also still lacking is evidence that memories can be found in dead tissue. But the company has found a way to test the market. Following the example of electric-vehicle maker Tesla, it is sizing up demand by inviting prospective customers to join a waiting list for a deposit of $10,000, fully refundable if you change your mind.

So far, 25 people have done so. One of them is Sam Altman, a 32-year-old investor who is one of the creators of the Y Combinator program. Altman tells MIT Technology Review he’s pretty sure minds will be digitized in his lifetime. “I assume my brain will be uploaded to the cloud,” he says.

No, Mr. Altman. You will be dead. Whatever program is in the cloud won’t be “you.” And you will be oblivious, wherever you are — if you are.

We in the West have the richest and most productive lives of any time in history. And yet, the best off among us are apparently terrified. This story points cultural anthropologists to a rich vein of potential research about how cultural and material thriving breed desperation.

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